Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis

People act on the basis of their understanding of how the world works -- their "theories of action" (Argyris and Schön, 1974). This applies to projects and programs as well. If you can improve a program's theory you can improve how people implement it. [ Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA)] is an approach in which the participants in a project (project and program are used synonymously from now on), including project staff, key stakeholders and the ultimate beneficiaries, together co-construct their program theory. This theory describes plausible impact pathways by which project outputs are used by others to achieve a chain of outcomes leading to a contribution to eventual impact on social, environmental or economic conditions. Impact pathways are a type of logic model, that is, they constitute a model that describes the logic of what the project will do, is doing, or what it did.

Development and use of PIPA

Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) was first used in a workshop in January 2006 in Ghana, with seven projects funded by the [ Challenge Program on Water and Food] . Nine PIPA workshops have been held since then for 46 projects. Researchers from the [ International Center for Tropical Agriculture] (CIAT - Spanish acronym), [ WorldFish Center] and [ International Potato Center] (CIP - Spanish acronym) are developing PIPA. PIPA developed from [ innovation histories] and work carried out by the [ Institutional Learning and Change Initiative] . A paper describing the approach has been accepted for publication in the Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation.

PIPA helps workshop participants surface, discuss and write down their assumptions and theories about how their project activities and outputs could eventually contribute to desired goals such as poverty reduction. The description of these assumptions and theories is a description of the project’s (or program’s) impact pathways. PIPA has helped workshop participants with the following:
* Clarify and communicate their own project’s logic of intervention and its potential for achieving impact
* Understand other projects and identify areas for collaboration
* Generate a feeling of common purpose and better programmatic integration
* Produce an impact narrative describing the project's intervention logic
* Produce a framework for subsequent monitoring and evaluation

When PIPA works best

PIPA is useful when two or more projects in the same program wish to better integrate. At least two people for each project should attend, preferably the project leader and someone else who knows the project and has time and inclination to follow up on what comes out of the workshop. PIPA also works well when one project wishes to build-up common understanding and commitment from its stakeholders. In this case, two or more representatives from each important stakeholder group should attend.

The PIPA process

PIPA can be used at the beginning of a project, in the middle or at the end as way of documenting and learning from the project. PIPA describes project (or program) impact pathways in two ways: (i) causal chains of activities, outputs and outcomes through which a project is expected to achieve its purpose and goal; and (ii) networks of evolving relationships between project implementing organizations, stakeholders and ultimate beneficiaries that are necessary to achieve the goal. The workshop process, shown in the diagram, develops the two perspectives in turn and then integrates them.

The workshop begins with participants developing a problem tree that links the project goal framed in terms of a challenge or problem to what the project is actually going to do. The approach used for developing the problem tree is based on work by Renger and Titcombe (2003). The problem tree helps participants clarify the key problems / opportunities their projects are addressing, and the outputs (things others will use) that their projects need to produce. Participants then carry out a visioning exercise, which borrows from appreciative inquiry, to describe project success 2 years after the project finishes, based on the adoption and use of project outputs. These three steps (see diagram) usually take about a day to complete and provide the information needed to describe a causal chain of outcomes needed to achieve project success.

The second part of the workshop involves participants drawing the networks of people and organizations already working in the area in which the project wishes to intervene. They then draw the networks that will be needed to achieve the project vision and identify the differences between the two networks. From these differences they identify the communication and influence strategy that the project will need to employ to be successful. The final step is to integrate the causal chain and the network perspectives by drawing a time line that lists what needs to happen from when the project starts until the vision is achieved.

An optional step, if the information is to be used for monitoring and evaluation, is to discuss how projects can monitor their progress along their impact pathways. This can involve identifying SMART (specific, measurable, attributable, realistic and time bound) [ indicators] to measure expected change, and an approach like most significant change to pick up unexpected ones. A key component of any evaluation plan is that project staff periodically revisit their vision, problem trees and network maps and update them based on what they have learned, identify necessary changes to the time line and document the process.

After the workshop

The information from PIPA workshops has been used in a number of ways:
* At a minimum a clean record is kept of the workshop outputs to provide impact hypotheses for any future evaluation of project impact, and also to help in communicating the project's rationale.
* The evaluators who run the workshops have worked with project staff to write impact narratives, similar to John Mayne’s (2004) performance stories, that explains the logic of the project intervention in a narrative form. The experience is that the discipline of writing a coherent narrative surfaces assumptions that otherwise remain hidden.
* The information from the network maps has been processed using social network analysis software [ Ucinet and NetDraw] to produce composite maps that show which CPWF projects are working with which organizations. These maps help the basin coordinators do their job.

See also

* Program evaluation
* Logic model
* Evaluation
* Outcome Mapping
* [ Innovation Histories]


1. [ The Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis Wiki] contains more information about PIPA and many more references than listed here

2. The main reference for PIPA is this journal articleDouthwaite, B., Alvarez, B.S., Cook, S., Davies, R., George, P., Howell, J., Mackay, R. and Rubiano, J. (2007). Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis: A Practical Application of Program Theory in Research-for-Development. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation Vol. 22 No. 2 Pages 127-159.

A more condensed version of PIPA is given in Douthwaite, B; Alvarez, S; Thiele, G; and Mackay, R (2008). Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis: A Practical Method for Project Planning and Evaluation. ILAC Brief No. 17. The ILAC Initiative, Bioversity. Available at []

PIPA grew out of work in Northern Nigeria described in the following articles:

(i) Douthwaite, B., Schulz, S., Olanrewaju, A., Ellis-Jones, J. (2007). [ Impact pathway evaluation of an integrated Striga hermonthica control project in Northern Nigeria.] Agricultural Systems. 92 pp 201-222 AND

(ii)Douthwaite, B., T. Kuby, E. van de Fliert and S. Schulz. (2003). Impact Pathway Evaluation: An approach for achieving and attributing impact in complex systems. Agricultural Systems 78 pp243-265

4. The key references that informed how to develop impact narratives based on the output of a PIPA workshop: Mayne, J. 2004. Reporting on outcomes: setting performance expectations and telling performance stories. The Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation Vol. 19 (1) pp. 31-60

5. The key reference for the use of causal analysis / problem trees in the PIPA process: Renger, R. and Titcomb, A. 2002. A Three-Step Approach to Teaching Logic Models American Journal of Evaluation. 23: 493-503

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