The figure above identifies the key elements of a generic theory of change which underpins MS platforms: how the platform is expected to contribute to positive effects through the way it is set up, through its activities and outputs, and in view of its intentions and aspirations.
Identification of these key elements tells us what we need to assess in order to find out how to enhance the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder platforms, and what types of evidence will be needed for this.
A platform’s intentions and aspirations relate to what lies beyond the direct control of platform operations. It is through platform members and partners that the platform contributes to impact. This is not a linear process as the various arrows in this area illustrate.
In theory platform intentions and aspirations should translate to a matching setup of the platforms arrangements and capacities, to matching activities and outputs, etc. Along the way, somewhere that connection may be lost, for which reason the platform may still be doing things and leading to change but it may no longer be really connected to the original intentions and aspirations.
The theory of change on paper, may be different from what happens in reality.
This is important to understand, because we may be gathering evidence of actual practice/effects, that does not help tell a convincing story about the effectiveness of the platform since it does not connect to original intentions and aspirations. So this idea of ‘cascading intentions’ helps us to better understand the consistency in reality of the theory of change which underpins the platform.
Different types of evidence are needed to be able to tell a convincing story about platform effectiveness. Evidence which shows the appropriateness of platform arrangements and choice of activities and outputs is important since it allows for connecting platform operations to effects, making plausible that effects are related to intentions and aspirations.
Such evidence from different steps/levels can be used in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) as well as to inform stakeholders (including sponsors) and management decision making in improving the services of the platform.
This diagram relates to the variety in platform performance in terms of gathering and communicating evidence to support claims of being effective. Some platforms may have a stronger basis for this than others. Each platform will be needing a different mix of different types of evidence coming from the range of elements relating to the theory of change.
A deep-dive assessment of a particular platform will involve four steps:
- In view of the platform’s ToC assess what evidence the platform would actually need to know how it is faring in terms of being effective;
- Assess what evidence is already being gathered (and used) and/or what evidence could easily be obtained.
- Assessing the difference between a) and b) in terms of what evidence gaps need to be addressed (and how)
- Developing a plan for getting the platform’s act together in terms of evidence-based assessment (and communication) of its effectiveness.