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Theory of Change

ISET-International’s theory of change rests on three pillars:

  1. Co-generation of Knowledge with Important Change Agents

  2. Appropriate Communications Tools to Engage with Networks of Opinion Leaders

  3. The Power of Frameworks


1  Co-generation of Knowledge with Important Change Agents

Solving complex socio-ecological problems requires involving key players in framing problems and seeking solutions together. New evidence and knowledge is needed to inform actions, but they alone are generally insufficient to catalyze action. However, when change agents are engaged in knowledge generation and its dissemination through effective communication strategies, they are far more likely to own the research findings and act on them than they are if they are handed research results produced elsewhere by others.

As a result, most ISET-International interventions involve shared learning among key actors (local people, policy makers, etc.) in the process of identifying problems and the actions they can take to resolve them. Because we are talking to the users of our research results, we design research outputs to respond to the types of information different types of actors need and can relate to: cost-benefit analyses and regulatory regimes for government and multi-lateral investors, new business opportunities for the private sector, and social concerns for the community groups. We always seek examples of tangible solutions to the problems individuals, households, businesses and government agencies face.

2  Appropriate Communications Tools to Engage with Networks of Opinion Leaders

We seek to infuse change agents with the conceptual understanding, practical evidence and, most importantly, inspiration to put insights into practice in the arenas they are particularly well positioned to influence.  By combining scientific insights with practical work by cities in preparing for and responding to climate change, disasters, and economic or social change, we produce narratives that inspire and, through a combination of analysis and anecdote, help to identify points of entry for positive change. We also contribute substantively to understanding what resilience “means” both conceptually and in a practical sense as part of everyday life. While the narratives produced are often of interest to broad audiences, our core focus is on relatively small groups of people whose positions or personal characteristics make them particularly suited to serve as catalysts for change. We concentrate on individuals who, due to their clarity of thought and force of personality, have found themselves uniquely positioned to influence action, regardless of their formal position.

At the policy level, we build links with governments, development practitioners, local partners, research groups and academia, empowering both local and high-level decision-makers as well as researchers and practitioners to serve as change-agents. However, we also recognize that the vast majority of adaptation to changing conditions is done autonomously, by independent individuals and organizations outside the purview of governments. We develop communication strategies and materials that are tailored to the needs and styles of these different audiences.

3  The Power of Frameworks

We find that working on complex problems requires common frameworks for understanding. Conceptual frameworks put ideas and thoughts into a coherent, logical and comprehensible pattern to avoid fragmentation, duplication and repetition. It also helps reduce abstract thinking to more pragmatic activities and tangible outputs, making it a powerful tool for developing practical plans. Such frameworks enable the integration of basic quantitative scientific knowledge into applied policy and social contexts.

The principle framework we have developed is the Resilience Framework. It enables people to analyze who might do what to which system, institution, or set of agents in order to build resilience. Carefully applied in combination with shared learning process, it has a good track record of helping to identify points of entry into existing plans, programs and public policies seeking to build resilience by:

  • promoting local capacity-building through participatory preparation of resilience strategy;
  • integrating natural and social science knowledge into design, planning and strategy;
  • supporting implentation and other forms of action; and
  • influencing policy, investment strategies, and economic incentives.

The framework is a foundation for bringing about both incremental and transformative changes. Because it shifts attention from the impacts of climate change to the drivers of adaptation, it identifies points of entry into existing plans, programs, and policies where incremental learning by change-agents can address current risks as well as catalyze large, long-term and transformational changes in systems. By moving beyond linear loss-and-damage projections to examine the socio-economic and structural dimensions of vulnerability and adaptation, the framework identifies practical strategies that change-agents can implement to minimize vulnerability, build resilience and enhance adaptive capacity in an uncertain and dynamic future.