Original Research

Evaluation in African contexts: The promises of participatory approaches in theory-based evaluations

Nombeko P. Mbava, Peter Dahler-Larsen
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 7, No 1 | a383 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v7i1.383 | © 2019 Nombeko P. Mbava, Peter Dahler-Larsen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 February 2019 | Published: 11 September 2019

About the author(s)

Nombeko P. Mbava, Institute of Monitoring and Evaluation, School of Management Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Peter Dahler-Larsen, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark


Background: A recent study of African evaluations identified deficiencies in present evaluation practices. Due to limited public sector expertise for the design of policy impact evaluations, expertise for such complex designs is largely external to the public sector. Consequently, recommendations made sometimes pay insufficient attention to variations in local contexts.

Objectives: The bold idea presented in this article is that theory-based evaluation (TBE) in its most recent participatory versions offers promising opportunities towards more flexible epistemology. When properly tweaked, tuned and adapted to local needs and demands in African contexts, better theory-based evaluations are possible.

Method: Three TBE-inspired criteria for better evaluations are suggested. The usefulness of including broad perspectives in theory-making was illustrated with a recent policy example, that is, the provision of tablets to school children in South Africa.

Results: A model of collaborative theory-making is presented. The pros and cons of the proposed hybrid model are discussed.

Conclusion: Recent trends in TBE point towards more participation of stakeholders in the theory-making process and towards more flexible epistemologies. The proposed innovation of TBE may have broader implications and serve as a promising inspiration for better evaluation practices in African contexts, given that existing research has demonstrated a need for such visions.


theory-based evaluation; TBE; participatory evaluation; impact evaluation; realist evaluation; flexible epistemology; Africa public sector


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