Contribution analysis’ as an innovative approach to policy planning, implementation and evaluation in partnership contexts

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The focus on ‘outcomes’ in the context of public sector reform in Scotland has been driven by government expectations about the need for public sector organisations to demonstrate the difference and the change made by public policy programmes (as opposed to what has been produced or, in other words, just the ‘outputs’). This agenda has been supported by a national outcomes agenda for public sector bodies and outcome agreements for local government and community planning partners. The techniques that have developed to support public managers in demonstrating impact include the development of outcomes/results plans; logic models and the formulation of outcome/results chains as part of monitoring and evaluation. This is seen as a way to determine the contribution that programmes make to outcomes within dense partnership environments in recognition of the fact that identifying the attribution of programmes to societal change (particularly at the medium to long-term levels) can be complex. The term that has emerged within the public management and evaluation literature to capture the assessment of change is ‘Contribution Analysis’ (CA) (Mayne, 2001; Wimbush et al., 2013). CA includes programme planning (including activity prioritisation), implementation, monitoring and evaluation, performance measurement and learning. These processes are based on the use of available evidence and the assessment and calculation of risks and assumptions. Although debates associated with evidence-based policy-making in relation to outcomes has been a feature of the public policy literature in recent times (Sanderson, 2002, Nutley et al, 2010), the relationship between CA as a ‘paradigm’ for public policy innovation has yet to be recognised within the academic literature to any great extent. The paper draws primarily on the public health policy sector in Scotland and provides insights into the opportunities and challenges around the use of CA as a mechanism for innovation when it comes to demonstrating the impact of programmes within partnership contexts. The paper is informed by both the academic- and practitioner-based insights of the author in relation to conducting outcomes-focused evaluation in the public sector and capacity-building with policy-makers at national and local levels (see also Connolly, 2015). Conceptually, the paper also provides a critical lens regarding the move towards the use of CA as a new form of a ‘rational model’ of policy-making in the guise of ‘theory-based evaluation’. The paper provides key learning for public managers and argues that although public policies can be constructed around stepped and calculated approaches at the policy planning stage (e.g. reaching agreement on outcomes between stakeholders), there are considerable limitations with the application of the approach in terms of sustainability, evidence availability, and systemic implementation challenges. Equally, in accounting for these constraints, the paper offers pragmatic lessons on the strategies that can be employed to enhance innovative approaches to policy formulation, implementation and evaluation in partnership contexts when demonstrating outcomes is paramount for ensuring accountability and organisational learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2015
Externally publishedYes
EventSocial Innovation Research Conference - Fudan University, Shanghai, China
Duration: 21 May 201522 May 2015


ConferenceSocial Innovation Research Conference
Abbreviated titleSIRC 2015


  • Policy planning
  • Partnership contexts
  • contribution analysis
  • CA
  • Organisational learning


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