Theorizing Change - Mapping Stakeholders’ Perspectives. on the Ecosystem Services Project in Huamantanga, Peru

Katarzyna Cieslik, A.R.P.J. Dewulf

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperAcademicpeer-review


Social programs are based on explicit or implicit assumptions of how and why a certain intervention will work. Recently, these assumptions have captured the attention of academics and practitioners alike, sparking sudden interest in the so called theories of change (ToCh). By illustrating how each intermediate outcome links to another in a logical and/or chronological flow, ToCh are explanations of how certain groups of stakeholders expect to reach a commonly understood long-term goal. In this research, we take the comprehensive case study of a recent ecosystem services project in Huamantanga, Peru, as a strategic site to illustrate the diversity of perceptions and assumptions around the project’s theory (ies) of change held by a heterogeneous group of stakeholders. Founded by the British research consortium, Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA), the intervention built upon launching a community-led environmental virtual observatory (EVO): an open technology platform for ecosystem knowledge generation and exchange. While in principle, ToCh represents a welcome effort of organizations to explore and represent change in a way that reflects a systemic understanding of development, practitioners’ experience points to the threats of its unquestioned application. External application of ToChs imposes a pre-defined project logic model and irrevocably reduces complex social reality to a clear-cut range of project deliverables. The pressure to be policy-relevant and to deliver a range of specific impacts, while well-intentioned, may also deter investigation of alternative sets of assumptions about the change process. With the use of ethnographic data, narrative interviews and focus group discussions with the project's stakeholders (Huamantanga community members, the researchers, practitioners and founders), we attempt to explore these ‘alternative assumptions’, conceptualizing ToCh not as a product, but as an ongoing process of reflection and dialogue, a path of practice-informed scientific exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventResilience Frontiers for Global Sustainability - Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 20 Aug 201722 Aug 2017


ConferenceResilience Frontiers for Global Sustainability


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