Defining Pathways

Objective: Process and discussion for selecting critical pathways for domain of change and for developing and clearly articulating pathways with a set of guiding questions.

CARE Bangladesh: Pathway Characteristics

In Bangladesh, prior to an exercise to select pathways from a range of possibilities, the facilitator provided this explanation for pathways of change:

There are many paths to attain the same outcome but the paths chosen are understood to be the most effective to achieving lasting social change in a 15-year time horizon.

A pathway does more than instruct someone how to go from point A to point B in a specific time period; it clearly explains why this route is necessary and what are expected outcomes. The “how” is a set of hypotheses and critical assumptions that account for the causality and logic in the pathway.

They are valid so long as they have been or are being tested (they can be updated as one learns).

The composite set of pathways that inter-relate to achieve the domains of change is also essential; if one pathway is absent, success will not be attained. A set of pathways in combination have synergistic effects and will achieve change in the domains as effectively as possible in 10-15 years.

Each pathway:

  • Has a high-magnitude effect
  • Can be described and envisioned
  • Has a set of practices of how it works well
  • Is both about actions to take and their outcomes (causal)
  • Is interdependent on other pathways
  • Captures agency, structure and relations

CARE Egypt: Thinking Through Pathway Development

This example was developed, with assistance from a consultant, during the process of beginning work on an impact measurement system. One of the tasks of the team is to develop a clear articulation of each pathway, before operationalizing the theory of change.

Phase 1: Describing Pathways

Use these guiding questions for pathway description:

  • Question 1: What is the rationale for selecting this pathway to fulfill the domain of change? Say something about why you selected it.
  • Question 2: Whose behaviors or roles need to change in order to attain the highest level result of this pathway and the indicators? Be specific about which stakeholders and how you expect them to change. Even if the end result is a policy change or other systemic change, there are still often behavioral changes as pre-conditions. Think it through.
  • Question 3: Then ask what actions you and CARE’s partners need to take to influence these behavior changes.
  • Question 4: Sometimes there is no specific action, but it is just about influencing others. Be specific about this too.
  • Question 5: What do you see as your most important causal links in this pathway? Which ones really deserve your attention in testing this pathway?
  • Question 6: How do your initiatives overlay on the causal pathway? Which relationships do they capture?
  • Question 7: Does the initiative M&E system allow you to collect data on those most important causal links (such as an intervention creating a specific expected outcome)?
  • Question 8: Are initiatives working in different operational areas or do they overlap? If they do not overlap, are they achieving similar outcomes but with a different approach or set of actions? Then it is worth comparing.
  • Question 9: If initiatives are complementary to one another, should they be operating in the same geographic area to create synergy?
Example Description

Domain of Change 1: CSOs are strong and gender sensitive and are an avenue for building women's leadership and representation of women's needs, rights and interests

Pathway 2: CSOs inform, influence and monitor govt policies and programs that support gender equity and equality

Contributing Projects and non-Project Efforts: WESAL, EYE ON CEDAW, Safe Cities


Operational Definitions

Geographic Disaggregation

Source and Method of Data Collection

# of initiatives led by CSOs for policy change related to gender equity or equality

e.g., personal status law, domestic violence, sexual harassment

Includes policies, procedures and laws
CSOs at community and national level

Minya, Assuit, Sohag; National (Cairo) for Safe Cities Baseline for Safe Cities and post-test;

KAP pre and post; Shadow Report for EYE ON CEDAW

All pre and post

Types and # of actions, policies and programs implemented as a result of these initiatives

Actions = procedure decisions, govt refers problem to a policymaking body or takes some action towards it

Programs = at local level with government cooperation

Minya, Assuit, Sohag; National (Cairo) for Safe Cities Baseline for Safe Cities and post-test;

KAP pre and post; Shadow Report for EYE ON CEDAW

All pre and post



CSOs have not been a force for change in women’s empowerment or gender equity. Unless civil society becomes active, even impassioned, about this issue, there will be little pressure on the government to change. This has to begin at the grassroots level, where the inequities in communities play out, particularly violence against women. CSOs can directly mobilize and influence different segments of society, be a vehicle for women’s participation, and engage both men and boys in advocating for change. Linking the grassroots to the national level is the most effective means for policy change, as it generates the evidence (of how inequities are manifest at community level) and demonstrates the scale of support for the issue. Moreover, as a principle, giving people, women especially the chance to participate by joining more women in the CSOs composition , also having a women voice in the process of legislative and policy change is something we wish to promote.


How do we expect CSOs to inform, influence and monitor government policies and programs that support gender equity and equality?

NGOs include community-based organizations (CBOs) and intermediary organizations, the latter who are often CARE implementing partners. Our general approach is to assess their capacity for becoming involved in the activities (depending on what it is) and then select those that will become engaged in the work. Mainly through training activities, we first ensure that the NGOs have sufficient understanding and awareness of the issues, i.e., how women’s rights are being violated, and the gaps in the legislation, leading to a proposed set of changes to the laws and policies to ensure fulfillment of women’s rights (and prevent injustices). In WESAL, CSOs actually participated in community assessment and will be part of legislative analysis and power mapping before developing an advocacy strategy.

The role of the CSOs in the communities is to mobilize communities and make them aware of the issues affecting women, such as violence in the WESAL project, or threats to women in public spaces in the Safe Cities initiative. Part of becoming aware is also holding up a mirror to the community and drawing out evidence of how this is happening. WESAL does this through interactive community theatre. In the EYE ON CEDAW initiative, where the awareness raising focused on the CEDAW, CSOs became part of a network and joined committees that played the role of gathering case data that were relevant to the personal status law and the gender-based violence law. This is a way to provide evidence of what needs to change. Another committee was charged with raising awareness on CEDAW and engaging the media to reach a wide number of people, while another was charged with increasing knowledge about the conventions, protocols, etc. of CEDAW so that participating CSOs could understand the difference between the government report to CEDAW and the shadow report they would submit. In Safe Cities, evidence gathering is done through community-level watchdogs who gather stories.

It is also part of the change strategy to involve and influence religious leaders, to demonstrate, for example, there is no contradiction in the Sharia law with the policy asks (changes) we wish to see happen. We involve them in the planning phases and seek their commitment to the policy change.

We use evidence from the grassroots to develop advocacy messages. In Safe Cities, volunteer groups and NGOs develop advocacy messages on prevention and protection against violence against women. Dissemination of messages to the public as well as to influence policymakers is through the media and various other means – in WESAL, through the use of interactive theatre at community, governorate and national levels.

Policy dialogue regarding violence in public space takes place in Safe Cities through public forums between local / slum communities and policy makers on VAW in public spaces. In WESAL, the policy dialogue for domestic violence we expect will be triggered by the theatre presentations, and local voices will be heard by policy makers by raising it to the national level.

Many assumptions are being made about the political environment and how that will affect the possibilities for civil society organizations to be heard. This will need to be closely monitored.



Will lead to...

  • Select NGOs and provide awareness raising training on the issues and legislative gaps.
  • Train NGOs in the techniques to mobilize and raise awareness in communities about women’s rights
  • Train NGOs on how to generate evidence from the grassroots of the abuses and the reasons policy change is needed
  • Involve religious leaders, men and boys to commit to an agenda for change
  • NGOs create the evidence
  • Religious leaders, men, and boys commit to the agenda
  • NGOs develop advocacy messages to present to policymakers and key stakeholders.
  • NGOs disseminate messages through the media, public forums or other means
  • NGOs engage in the policy dialogue at the national level, with clear messages of what needs to change in the policies, procedures, etc…
  • Policy change, procedural change, etc…
  • NGOs monitor and hold duty bearers accountable



Phase 2: Deciding Critical Hypotheses within the Pathway

A set of guiding questions that may help you decide which are critical hypotheses in this pathway:

  • Are CSOs able to formulate strong, effective, evidence-based advocacy messages?
  • What tactics really influence and bring onboard religious leaders?
  • Does the media play a very big role? Are they allies?
  • What does it take for any one community to support an agenda for women? Is the role of CSOs sufficient?
  • Are CSOs are able to participate in policy dialogue?
  • Will the political environment post-elections tolerate a greater role of CSOs in policy dialogue?