Our theory of change

A “Theory of Change” is a framework that outlines the long-term change that an organization or group would like see happen as well as how they contribute that change.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) programs should sit inside and be directed by a Theory of Change, describing an organization’s vision and how their actions and interventions contribute to that vision.

Fairtrade International has developed a Theory of Change for Fairtrade (PDF) to help with the ongoing development of our MEL system. It details the broad range of work that Fairtrade undertakes, and relates it to the short, medium and longer term changes we wish to see.  

The Fairtrade system’s Theory of Change was developed from 2011 to 2013 in a comprehensive process involving our many stakeholders. Fairtrade International held workshops with producer organizations across the globe to gain an understanding of their experience of change, what is most important for them and how they see Fairtrade contributing to the desired outcomes. The results from our consultations were presented at the 2013 ISEAL conference.

The guiding principles of Fairtrade’s MEL program

  • Evidence: Develop a robust body of evidence on the outcomes of Fairtrade interventions in relation to the Theory of Change.
  • Global scope: Implement a structure for the monitoring and evaluation of global Fairtrade impact, with research from both regional and global levels informing each other.
  • Coordinated methodology: Ensure that all MEL assessments follow key principles of methodology, incorporating core indicators to build upon baseline data to analyze trends and ensure consistency.
  • Learning: Collate and analyze data in order to create a system of learning based on evidence, which will guide our decisions, strategies and continuous improvements.
  • Access: Open access for members of the Fairtrade system (such as Producer Networks like Fairtrade Africa or National Fairtrade Organizations like Fairtrade America) to analyze data as per their unique needs.
  • Resource optimization: Ensure efficient MEL efforts through developing existing tools and structures to reduce duplication, boost learning from established activities (e.g. audits) and enhance consistency and coordination.
  • Dissemination: Share the effective, collective communication of MEL results by all teams and actors involved, to both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Accountability: Support Fairtrade to be accountable to all stakeholders within its system—producers, their cooperatives, Fairtrade member organizations, supporters, campaigners, donors and businesses.
  • Optimize producer benefit: Make an efficient MEL process to reduce any additional burdens faced by farmers and workers in Fairtrade producer organizations. Provide producer organizations with access to their MEL data, support for its management and help with analysis to increase understanding and learning at a producer level.