Describe the Research

A sound Program Model and Theory of Change are built on a combination of research and evidence along with some underlying assumptions about how change happens.

Put together the research and evidence base for your program and make the implicit underlying assumptions explicit.

Surfacing assumptions raises factors that might affect achievement of outcomes given your resources; this is a helpful step that focuses your inquiry as testing assumptions is part of the learning process.

Photo credit: Kids in Parks

Guiding Questions

  • What research and evidence support the linkages among your program design, participants' needs, and the results you seek to achieve?
  • What does the field literature say about factors that can make the problem better or worse?
  • What do you assume to be true about the process of how change happens?
  • Why do you believe your approach is the right one to accomplish the desired change?

Research/evidence examples

  • K-12 students in California, particularly those in urban environments, do not have consistent access to high-quality environmental literacy education. (State Superintendent of Public Instruction Torlakson’s Environmental Literacy Task Force, 2015)
  • A 2006 study by found meaningful evidence that:
  • Environmentally-related education, using best educational practices, can increase academic achievement across curriculum subjects.
  • Study of natural environments can be a significant factor in academic achievement gains.
  • Certain teaching practices and teaching support in EE programs appear to strengthen academic outcomes. (, 2006)
  • Research shows that students effectively develop knowledge and skills about the environment through direct experiences in the outdoors and with real environmental issues that affect communities and society. (NAAEE, 2010)

Assumptions examples

  • Environmental stewardship: When parks are cared for, the overall health of the community improves with increased resources, safety, and economic prosperity.

Click on the image below to access
the Describing Research, Evidence, and Assumptions worksheet

Check out these environmental education-related resources to help add research and evidence to your Theory of Change:

My Environmental Education Evaluation Resource Assistant (MEERA):

North American Association for Environmental Education:

Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative:


Green 2.0:

Kahn, Jr, P. H., & Friedman, B. (1998). On Nature and Environmental Education: Black Parents Speak from the Inner City. Environmental Education Research, 4 (1).

Stern, M. J., Powell, R. B., & Ardoin, N. M. (2010). Evaluating a Constructivist and Culturally Responsive Approach to Environmental Education for Diverse Audiences. The Journal of Environmental Education, 42 (2), 109-122.

Finney, C. (2008-2009). What's Race Got to Do with It? Whole Thinking Journal, 4, 21-24.

Photo credit: CommunityGrows