28 Oct 2022

Forging pathways to impact: our new interactive theory of change

By Harveen Kour, Head of Information and Knowledge, Fairtrade International

TOC screenshot pathway
Fairtrade's interactive Theory of Change

Our theory of change maps out what we do and why. It provides the basis to measure the results of our work and progress towards our goals. What it also must do is reflect the latest thinking and best evidence. We have updated our theory of change and launched a new tool to make the pathways to impact easier to trace.

Building on evidence to update our theory of change

Fairtrade started developing its first theory of change in 2011, when researchers and Fairtrade staff visited farmers and workers to understand their perspectives on the most significant changes that happened in their lives because of Fairtrade. This rigorous documentation eventually resulted in a theory of change that helped us better build monitoring and evaluation plans, develop programmes that clearly fit within the pathways of change we were aiming for, and make real progress toward our end goals of sustainable livelihoods and more power to farmers and workers.

While the theory of change was updated slightly in 2015, as we approached the start of a new strategic plan for Fairtrade in 2020, we commissioned an independent meta-review of recent studies (2015-2020) to gain a comprehensive picture of whether we were achieving impact in the areas of the theory of change that we aim to influence.

From this, in combination with a renewed global strategy set with aspirations for 2025 and linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, we revisited the theory of change once again. We spent more than a year collecting information, from surveys to capture internal learnings from the previous theory of change, to dozens of consultations with hundreds of stakeholders across the Fairtrade system to identify what would make our theory of change more accurate, effective and actionable.

Some of the key changes include the explicit addition of human and environmental rights; living income and living wage outcomes and the necessary factors that contribute to them; specific emphasis on data and traceability; and a larger focus on climate change, to name a few. We also developed the revised theory of change with an acknowledgement that the further along the pathways of change we go, the more external factors play a role in the impact that can be achieved.

A new interactive format

We also realized that we needed a way to visualize the multiple pathways from Fairtrade actions, to intermediary steps, to final desired impact. Certain aspects of Fairtrade, like standards and support to strengthen producer organizations, cascade out in multiple directions and contribute to a variety of intermediate outcomes such as better financial management, democratic decision-making, and the ability to invest in and train members on climate-resilient farming practices. These in turn, joined by the effects of other Fairtrade actions, are intermediate steps toward sustainable resilient livelihoods, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.

That’s why we developed an interactive version of our theory of change. The picture of how various actions and factors work together is now easy to see with a few clicks, allowing users to explore different connections and interdependencies. We are also keeping this theory of change ‘alive and kicking’ by linking to real stories that demonstrate the elements of change that we want to see in the world. We also highlight the Sustainable Development Goals relevant to each impact area, with a target date of 2030, as part of how we measure our contributions to achieving a sustainable world.

We invite you to explore this new resource, and join the journey of building a fairer world.