Methods, Tools & Techniques
Methods, Tools and Techniques are ways of gathering data and collecting the information to learn what changes have happened.
How do you measure the direct difference you’ve made? It’s tough to try to link your actions to a change or result, especially when many things affect an issue.
Many groups may be trying to influence something and it’s hard to pinpoint your influence within that wider picture.
Traditionally, groups are asked to ‘attribute’ their contribution to a change occurring in the world. This is called attribution. That is, how much can be attributed to a community’s effort to effect change.
Observers would look at changes in a person, family and community and try to decide how much came about as a result of the programme. They may not be able to tell and it can be unethical to claim attribution or direct cause and effect.
The emerging field of contribution analysis seeks to provide an alternative. Contribution analysis is a structured effort to explore and – if possible – estimate the relative contribution of an intervention.
It is useful for:
- Learning – by giving feedback to people driving an intervention so they can adjust accordingly.
- Taking credit – by affirming different participants’ contribution to an observed change.
You may decide that the contribution you attribute to your activity is minimal, indirect or direct. The best methods to use depends on what you think the contribution was. To help you find out, do prior research, get reactions from your backers or review case studies. Use multiple methods to gather more data, deepen your analysis and develop a stronger contribution case.
A core resource is John Mayne’s 2001 paper on contribution analysis as an approach for exploring cause and effect.
In this paper Mayne sets out six broad steps:
- Step 1: Set out the attribution or contribution problem to be addressed.
- Step 2: Develop a theory of change and risks to it.
- Step 3: Gather the existing evidence on the theory of change.
- Step 4: Assemble and assess the contribution story, and challenges to it.
- Step 5: Seek out additional evidence.
- Step 6: Revise and strengthen the contribution story.
Contribution analysis is more suited to large scale efforts, though it is worth considering generally when reflecting on how you show links between what you do and the effect that it has.
Three Things to Keep in Mind
Cabaj notes three things to keep in mind with contribution analysis:
- Appropriate burden of proof – whether a reasonable person, knowing what occurred in an intervention and that the intended outcomes actually occurred, agrees that the intervention contributed to these outcomes.
- Using diverse evidence if possible to enrich the weighing against other possible explanations.
- Using story or narrative format in reporting, which is a better way to communicate multiple factors leading to an outcome.
Contribution analysis may be best suited to validate a large project or to test policy impacts.
|Reduces uncertainty about attribution.||Time consuming and can be resource intensive.|
|Increases strategic thinking about “value added” of intervention.||May require different levels of expertise and facilitation.|
|Allows for shared credit among collaborative stakeholders.||Tough to avoid subjective bias in identifying and testing explanations.|
|Increased “clout” with doubters, funders and researchers.||Can generate conflict among stakeholders in terms of claiming credit or weighing up different explanations for change.|