Methods Vignettes: Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis



Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) is a planning and monitoring & evaluation tool designed to help the people involved in a project, program or organization make explicit their theories of change, in other words how they see themselves achieving their goals and having impact.

PIPA can involve a number of stages but usually “centres on a three day workshop bringing together project implementers, participating ‘next users’ (people and organizations who will use what the project will produce), ‘end users’ (people served by the ‘next users’) and politically important actors” (Douthwaite et al. 2009).

PIPA was developed from earlier ideas in programme theory and pioneered within the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food with support from the CGIAR Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) programme.

STEPS Centre research projects differ from CGIAR programmes in a number of important ways and we have adapted the PIPA process accordingly. For example, the Challenge Programme on Water and Food in which PIPA was pioneered had a budget of $12 million/ year over 10 years and aspirations of a measurable impact on the MDGs.  STEPS Centre projects have  annual budgets at less than 5% of this level and are run over three years.

What’s Involved?

PIPA begins with a workshop where participants share their visions for the project and draw network maps to identify ‘impact pathways’. These are then reflected on, and revised, at different stages during the project and at the end.  The full original process for PIPA is described on the PIPA website.

The STEPS Centre’s adapted process is as follows:

  • At the inception workshop for each project, a short concept note is created with problems and questions, research design and methodology, and output milestones.
  • In the PIPA workshop (which can be done as part of the inception workshop or after it), stakeholders from the project assemble a ‘now’ network map of relevant stakeholders in the policy space using coloured cards on large sheets of paper.
  • Each coloured card represents an organisation or individual (‘actor’). These may be grouped by country, region or proximity to various debates or ideological positions, by common consent. Different colours are used to distinguish between ‘sectors’ (ie business, academic, media etc)
  • Piles of three different colours of beans or counters are placed on each card to indicate an actor’s expected response to the project’s aims (ie favourable, neutral/ uninterested, negative). The number of beans indicates the actor’s relative power and influence relevant to the project’s aims.
  • Participants discuss strategies for engaging with different actors, power relations and networks, and their assumptions about how the project might contribute to different changes, in the light of the political and social context. The outputs are a discussion record, a project narrative, a photo or digital image of the network map and a list of actors.
  • The process can be revisited and revised as the project progresses. Interactions with actors, ‘impact stories’ and changes are recorded throughout the project. A description of impact is written up at the end of the project, and the project’s stakeholders reflect on how this compares with the original PIPA workshop outputs and the revisions created at different stages.

Broadening Out and Opening Up

PIPA encourages the participation of a broad set of stakeholders. For STEPS projects, this has often been limited to those directly contracted to work on the research and communications in the project. Even so, this often involves assembling people from several countries and disciplines.

The structure of the workshop encourages some broadening of inputs to the process, as participants share and acknowledge different framings, visions, politics and values during the initial discussion. This includes diverse understandings of how change happens and the project’s aims. Sometimes a degree of consensus may need to be achieved for the workshop to continue, but to a greater or lesser extent depending on the project, difference is accommodated and acknowledged. This difference is acknowledged in the record of the discussion.

The outputs involve some opening up and some closing down. The creation of a network map inevitably closes down possible interpretations of the relationships between actors in the project. However, within the process of creating it, there is discussion of a variety of strategies and ‘pathways to impact’, opening up spaces for diverse action and engagement. The network map and impact strategies can also be revisited, creating additional opportunities for a temporary opening up of the project’s approach to impact in the light of new context developments or insights.  When the PIPA has been used with STEPS Centre projects, the impact strategies under discussion often focus on methods (e.g. workshops, media briefings, meetings and alliances) for opening up policy spaces to new and previously marginalised viewpoints.

Possible Roles Fit and limits

The advantages of this method include:

  • Provides a forum for stakeholders from multiple countries and disciplines to discuss impact around a common process with visible and usable outputs
  • Flexible and adaptable to different countries and situations
  • The STEPS version of PIPA is adapted to the scale and timeframe of our projects and can be used in a relatively short workshop
  • The PIPA encourages discussion of diverse framings, values, understandings of change and politics/power which are common themes of the STEPS Centre’s ‘pathways approach’
  • Actors, framings, dynamics and strategies are all explicitly addressed by the PIPA. It can inform, and be informed by the research itself. STEPS projects look at different forms of knowledge and directions of change in a particular context and the PIPA helps to situate us (the researchers) within this picture.

Limitations include:

  • It is difficult and costly to assess the eventual impacts of STEPS projects, although we can document examples of where people have engaged with our work.
  • We are still working on how to link our monitoring & evaluation work back to how we conduct PIPA, as PIPA is not intended to be an evaluation tool in itself.

Key relevant references and weblinks