Theories of change for transformative science

Opening doors to sustainable development. Photo:

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marks a historic moment by reframing sustainable development. It provides a compass that urges all countries and stakeholders to realize societal transformations in a short period of time. These transformations are intrinsically linked to societal learning and changes in knowledge systems.

Use of suitable tools that enable research and education to serve and interact with society are critical to realize the transformative ambitions of sustainability science. In this respect, theories of change are a promising but underdeveloped and underutilized tool.

Modes of knowledge production

Theories of change seek to explain how and why the activities of a given initiative – whether a project, programme, or organization – lead to particular changes. They frequently inspire debate among stakeholders and are not merely theories, but also modes of knowledge production. Integrated in a process of critical reflection and learning, theories of change can support adaptive planning, implementation, learning, and evaluation at the project or organizational level.

Strengthening transformative power

CDE investigates how its own research, education, and outreach can better support real transformations. In so doing, it assesses the change theories of different CDE projects, reflects on their potentials and limitations, and looks for corresponding ways of improving the transformative power of projects and organizations.