The use of middle-level theory in CEDIL-funded research studies

Lessons Learned Paper 1

Howard White

Middle-level theory (MLT) sits between project-level theory, which is specific to a particular context, and grand theory, which is too general to be empirically useful. By understanding the underlying causal processes of a class of interventions, as well as the factors conditioning their operation, MLT seeks to enhance the transferability of study findings and so inform programme selection and design. During its inception stage, enhancing transferability through the use of MLT was identified as a Programme of Work for the UK Aid-funded Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning project, which commissioned 17 studies using such an approach. This paper reviews the experience of these studies and proposes a research agenda for further use of MLT.

Suggested citation: White, H. (2023) ‘The use of middle-level theory in CEDIL-funded research studies’. CEDIL Lessons Learned Paper 1, CEDIL, Oxford. Available at

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