The collaborative exploration of alternative futures: A different approach to Theories of Change

The collaborative exploration of alternative futures: A different approach to Theories of Change

The collaborative exploration of alternative futures: A different approach to Theories of Change

6 April 2022

ParEvo is a web application that enables the collaborative construction and exploration of a range of alternative futures: likely and unlikely, desirable and undesirable. These are described in the form of a branching narrative structure, developed over a series of iterations involving the interactions of a group of participants. These detailed storylines about the future contrast with optimistic, skeletal and largely singular views of the future found in diagrammatic ToCs often encountered by evaluators.
This webinar will describe a recent ParEvo exercise implemented by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) in Cambridge. In this exercise 11 international experts explored ideas about how global risks associated with biotechnology research could be managed, and mismanaged, in the coming four years. Including how these alternative futures were evaluated by participants and the CSER facilitators. Issues to be discussed by the panel, and others, include comparisons with other representations of Theories of Change and other approaches to the exploration of alternative futures, described variously as scenario planning, futures or foresight work.

Useful Links:

Background information on ParEvo

ParEvo App Website

Tom Hobson Slides

Rick Davies Slides

Lara Mani Slides



Rick Davies portrait






Rick Davies

Rick is a Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant based in Cambridge, UK. His clients are international development aid organisations. His skills include the management of evaluations, the design of M&E strategies & frameworks, M&E capacity building and the development of evaluation methodologies. He has worked extensively in Africa and Asia over the last 30 years. More recently the focus of his work has been on the quality assurance of evaluations, and the provision of specialised technical support to evaluation teams.

His PhD research on organisational learning in NGOs in Bangladesh led to the development of the “Most Significant Change” (MSC) technique, now widely used in developed and developing countries; Hierarchical Card Sorting,  a tool for ethnographic inquiries, and ParEvo, a web based tool enabling the collaborative exploration of alternative futures. He has also developed the now widely used Basic Necessities Survey, a democratic and rights based means of measuring of poverty, and EvalC3, a hybrid Excel based data analysis tool combining predictive modelling algorithms and a QCA view of causality. 


Rick also manages the Monitoring and Evaluation NEWS website which has been in operation since 1997.

Dr Lara Mani

Research Associate @Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), University of Cambridge

Lara is a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), where her research seeks to understand the efficacy of various communication methods and strategies for gaining traction for the mitigation and prevention of global catastrophic risks (GCRs). As part of the ‘A Science of Global Risk’ project, Lara seeks to provide empirical evidence to understand what communication methods, tools and messaging work to increase awareness of GCRs with policy makers, civil society, industry and publics. This research to date has adopted the use of role-playing games for increasing awareness for the importance of AI safety and ethics, and scenario-based exercises for exploring possible futures in biosecurity.

Lara’s background is in volcanic risk communication and establishing evidence-based practice for the education and communication of volcanic hazards, particularly within the Caribbean region. Her PhD explored the use of video games for volcanic hazard education and outreach programmes and most recently she has been working with partners in the Caribbean to evaluate the efficacy of the crisis communications campaigns during the 2020-2021 eruption of La Soufriere, St Vincent.

Dr Tom Hobson

Research Associate @Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), University of Cambridge
Tom’s work is focused on understanding and mapping the militarisation of emerging technologies, particularly biological technologies. His research, more broadly, is concerned with understanding how scientific & expert communities and military & policy actors imagine the future, the ways that existing technologies shape their visions of the future, and how they endeavour to secure a particular vision of the future through technology and innovation. Tom’s work aims to guide norms and policy in the present by developing a better understanding of how future (extreme) technological risk can be (re)produced through innovation and technology. Tom has a background in International Relations, Security Studies & STS, having completed his PhD within the Centre for War & Technology at the University of Bath. He has also worked in policy, research and project assessment in the fields of biosecurity & synthetic biology.


James Copestake portrait







Professor James Copestake

Professor @University of Bath

James Copestake is Professor of International Development at the University of Bath. His research ranges across agrarian change and rural development, development finance and its evaluation, conceptualisation of poverty and wellbeing, and the political economy of development and development studies. He is Codirector of the Centre of Development Studies, Director of Studies for the professional doctorate in policy research and practice at the Institute for Policy Research, and a founding director of Bath SDR Ltd, a social enterprise dedicated to improving qualitative and mixed method impact evaluation.

Leave a Reply