This blog offers a space to learn and share about the ongoing Contribution Analysis work at IRISS.  Throughout this project, we will explore IRISS’ contribution to promoting positive outcomes for the people who use Scotland’s social services.

What is Contribution Analysis?

Contribution Analysis is part of a family of evaluation approaches called theory-based evaluations.  CA uses a theory of change (Mayne 1999, Morton 2012) to show how a programme is intended to work and the projected impacts of its production.  This process of “logical argumentation” (Wimbush 2012) determines whether the outcomes observed are the result of the programme’s activities.

Contribution Analysis (CA) is typically conducted in six stages (Mayne 2010).

  1. Determine the cause-effect issue to be addressed
  2. Develop a theory of change and risks to its success
  3. Generate evidence in response to the theory of change
  4. Assemble the contribution story, and outline the challenges to it
  5. Seek out additional evidence
  6. Revise and strengthen the contribution story

Developing a robust theory of change is central to a successful CA evaluation. The theory of change is modelled through a set of tools called logic-models (Rogers 2008) or results chains (Mayne 2001). These tools act as a template for how a programme is intended to work.  There are various templates for creating a theory of change.  The appropriate model will depend on the nature of the intervention or process to be studied.

A useful aspect of a contribution analysis approach is the opportunity for collaboration and learning.  Both Patton (2012) and Wimbush et al (2012) identify multiple opportunities for engagement in the evaluation process.  Users of the evaluation are encouraged to participate in its design as well as the generation of evidence.

This participation is a cornerstone to the rigour of the process itself.  The development of a theory of change is intended to be a dialogical process which includes producers of the programme and users of its outputs.  The perspectives of these stakeholders on ‘how’ a programme is implemented and the possible changes it creates are the central elements of the theory of change.  Without the contribution of these voices, the theory of change is reliant on the evaluator’s distanced and singular viewpoint.


Mayne, J. (1999) ‘Addressing Attribution through Contribution Analysis: Using Performance Measures Sensibly.’ Discussion Paper available at: http://www.dww.cz/docs/attribution_through_contribution.pdf

Mayne, J. (2001) ‘Addressing Attribution through Contribution Analysis: Using Performance Measures Sensibly’. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 18 (1): 1-24.

Mayne, J. (2012) ‘Contribution Analysis: Coming of Age’ Evaluation, 18 (3): 270-280.

Morton, S. (2012) Exploring and Assessing Research Impact. Social Policy. Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh. PhD.

Patton, M.Q. (2012) ‘A utilization-focused approach to contribution analysis’. Evaluation, 18 (3): 364-377.

Rogers, P. (2008) ‘Using Programme Theory to Evaluate Complicated and Complex Aspects of Interventions’, Evaluation 14(1): 29–48.

Wimbush, E., Montague, S. Mulherin, T. (2012) A’pplications of contribution analysis to outcome planning and impact evaluation’. Evaluation, 18 (3): 310-329.

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