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Extensive Review on Program Theory

Extensive Review on Program Theory: The building of a realistic and sensible model of how a program is meant to work is known as program theory.

Program theory is defined as a series of assertions that describe a specific program, explain why, how, and under what conditions program effects occur, forecast program outcomes, and indicate the requirements required to achieve the desired program effects(Sedani & Sechrest, 2013).

A system of beliefs, values, and goals that define the structure, process, and consequences of a program is known as program theory. The function of a program theory, according to popular belief, is to determine the program’s theoretical sensitivity(Rogers, 2000).

Typically these models are developed for a particular program and do not require the use of a single established theory.


For a specific program, there is no general theory. As a result, there is no single valid program theory. Depending on the evaluator’s discipline, different theories may be used.

A psychologist would opt to build a program theory on the basis of individual cognitions and attitudes, whereas a sociologist might prefer to employ roles and organizational characteristics.

A microeconomic theory is perhaps the most comfortable for an economist to use. Using different sets of explanatory variables, different theories can be formed at the same level of analysis.

For example, an evaluator working on a school development program might focus on a theory that enhances teachers’ motivation to educate, while another researcher might come up with a theory that links school improvement to changes in teacher relationships.

It is critical to construct a functional program theory rather than the finest program theory. This means that alternative constructions may account for program effects in the same way.

This is understandable, given that programs are rarely created to test a single hypothesis. The theory-based evaluation can affirm one program theory but cannot usually identify whether additional program theories are correct.

Developing the Program Theory Model: Who and When

The program theory has been mainly established by the evaluator in some assessments, based on a survey of related research material on similar programs or relevant incidental mechanisms, interactions with key informants, and observation of the program itself (Lipsey and Pollard, 2005).

In other evaluations, the program theory was mostly generated by program participants, frequently through a group approach. Many experts recommend employing a combination of these methods.

The conceptual basis is the most important step of program development. The program theory can then be used to develop result and intermediate goals once this has been established.

This sequence of planning stages, according to Prosavac and Carey (2000), increases the likelihood of program success. As a result, prior to the start of the program, a program theory should be constructed (Rogers et al, 2000).

Prior to the start of any program, it is highly recommended that you construct a program theory. This isn’t always the case (Stufflebeam, 2004).

Even if the program is already running, it is critical to build a program theory. As a result, program theories can be generated throughout the course of the program’s operation (Rogers et al, 2000) or before to its evaluation (Bickman, 2000).

When attempting to determine why a program is succeeding or failing, as well as whether and where program improvement should be targeted, the development of a program theory is required.

Components of a program theory model

The program activities or inputs, the planned outcomes or outputs, and the methods by which the intended outcomes are attained are all described using program theory modeling (Rogers, 2004; Sedani and Sechrest, 2013).

A description of the important inputs defines the components of a program theory, how they are supplied, the strength or amount of treatment required to produce the desired outcome, and the required aspects vital in creating the desired outcomes(Lipsey, 2012).

The processes that are dependent on the outcome and that occur after the inputs should be described. An example of a program theory model is shown below.

The use of models like this for program evaluation assumes a stable environment in which any indication of theory or implementation failure can be adjusted based on the facts provided.

component of program theory

Your planned work                                 Your Intended Results

Resources/Input: Certain resources are needed to operate your program.

Activities: If you have access to them, then you can use them to accomplish your planned activities.

Outputs: If you accomplish your planned activities, then you will hopefully deliver the amount of product and/or service that you intended.

Outcomes: If you accomplish your planned activities to the extent you intended. Then your participants will benefit in certain ways.

Impact: If these benefits to participants are achieved, then certain changes in organizations, communities, or systems might be expected to occur

Functions of program theory model

There are several advantages to having a clear program theory in an evaluation. These are some of them:

Uncovering Unintended Effects: One of the benefits of describing a program theory is that it allows you to go beyond the project’s goals.

Program theory formulation and development, according to Scriven (2001), allows the evaluator to seek for either good or negative consequences that program designers and implementers may not have anticipated.

The underlying theory permits the evaluator to focus on objectives that can be derived from the theory’s operation rather than political goals.

Specifying Intervening Variables: By definition, program theory establishes a causal link between the program’s operation and its desired outcomes. A graphical representation of those links is possible while creating such a theory.

The program’s operations are linked to intervening proximal and distal variables. That is, the theory explains how the program’s actions affect the project’s final results. They established a relationship between the program’s inputs and its final outcomes.

Improving Formative use of Evaluation: Before the manifestation of a program’s final effects, program theory can specify its intermediary effects.

For example, if the goal of a program is to modify people’s eating habits, a theoretical approach would state that participants must understand which foods are appropriate to consume. As a result, knowing what meals to eat would be a halfway point.

UPDATED: Theoretical foundation of complexity theory

A black-box evaluation would not be able to assess the participant’s knowledge, but a theory-based approach should. As a result, the evaluator can frequently recommend corrective actions for program implementers by theoretically articulating the program’s impacts and assumptions.

Clarifying Measurement Issues: The evaluator can construct and choose measurements that are valid for the program using the theoretical approach.

Without theory, the evaluator will be unsure of the measurements to use or the validity of these measures. The evaluation of pupils into various departments within a school is a famous illustration of this dilemma.

IQ tests were apparently utilized because they were deemed trustworthy, valid measurements, even though they were not relevant to the projected outcomes from the program developer’s standpoint.

The assessors would have chosen different instruments if there had been a clear theoretical statement about the results that could be expected from the interventions implemented.

It is difficult for the evaluator to tell whether measures are correctly related to the program without this theoretical basis.

Identifying the Problem and Target Group: The relationship between the program and the problem should also be clarified by a program theory.

A program is usually created to help a certain group of people overcome an issue. It is expected that if the software is effectively developed, it will have an impact on the group’s problem.

It’s possible that programmers and implementers will not explicitly state such a relationship.

A software can be used with a group or for a problem that it is not designed for. As a result, program failure may not be due to a failure to follow processes, but rather to a failure to apply the program to the correct target population.

A well-written program theory should clearly out the circumstances under which the program will have a positive impact. Part of the program theory involves clearly stating the nature of the problem and the group affected.


Bickman, L. (2000). Program Evaluation and Social Psychology: The Achievement of

Relevancy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 483-490

Lipsey, M. W., & Pollard, J. (2005). Driving Toward Theory in Program Evaluation: More

Models to Choose From. Evaluation and Program Planning, 12, 317-328.

Rogers, P., A. Petrosino, T. Hacsi & T. Huebner (2000) ‘Program Theory Evaluation:

Practice, Promise and Problems’, in P. Rogers, A. Petrosino, T. Hacsi and T. Huebner

(eds) Program Theory Evaluation: Challenges and Opportunities, New Directions in

Evaluation series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rogers, P. (2004) ‘Logic Models’, in S. Mathison (ed.) Encyclopedia of Evaluation. Newbury

Park, CA: SAGE.

Sidani, S., & Sechrest, L. (2013). Putting Program Theory into Operation. American Journal of 

        Evaluation, 20(2), 227-238.

Stufflebeam, D.L. (2004) ‘The 21st Century CIPP Model’, in M.C. Alkin (ed.) Evaluation

        Roots, pp. 245–66. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.


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