This dissertation examines the construction of knowledge in three currents of the evaluation field: experiments and evidence-based meta-studies, realistic evaluation, and theories of change. Central to evaluation is the question of causality: which effects can be attributed to which causes? In order to answer the question of attribution, however, an understanding and conceptualisation of the programme being evaluated and its contextual boundaries is required.
Evaluation models based on theories of variance and models based on theories of process give very different answers to these questions. The experimental tradition addresses the problem of attribution by isolating the programme from contextual factors by a counterfactual analysis. On the other hand, models based on programme theory address context by making contextual conditions part of the explanation, asserting that only context-dependent explanation is possible. In complex contexts a counterfactual analysis may neither be possible nor relevant. The question of attribution may therefore best be addressed by its transformation into a question of contribution: did the programme make a difference, all things considered? In John Mayne’s contribution analysis, considerations of context, causal chains and explanatory mechanisms are structured by an overall theory of change of the intervention. This combination, however, raises questions about the ontological status of the mechanisms considered and the epistemology employed when discovering a programme’s underlying mechanisms of change.
Finally, the dissertation discusses the implications of accountability for contribution in an era dominated by trends of New Public Management and Evidence-Based Policymaking. In the conclusion it is suggested that the value of contribution analysis lies not so much in its theoretical or methodological approach as in its being helpful in creating a formally specified social platform for theorising and evaluating programme theories in discussions between stakeholders; discussions where questions and answers go beyond the hierarchical approach to accountability embedded in results-based management systems.
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