Looking where the key is: Surfacing theories of change in complex, collaborative initiatives

John Matthew Riggan, University of Pennsylvania


This thesis introduces community schools as a promising strategy for improving schools and neighborhoods, summarizes and critiques the current research and evaluation literature about such programs, and discusses the many challenges they present for evaluation. Strategies for evaluating community school programs are reviewed, with specific emphasis on program theory evaluation (PTE). It is argued that PTE is the best available approach for evaluating community schools, but fails to sufficiently account for the complex, collaborative nature of such programs. A new variant of PTE, complex program theory, is introduced to address these shortcomings. The West Philadelphia Improvement Corps (WEPIC), a twenty year-old community school initiative, is presented as a case study. The complex program theory presented for WEPIC (1) accounts for multiple theories of change among collaborator groups, and (2) is anchored by a theoretical model of the collaborative process itself. Historical analysis of WEPIC reveals a significant shift from small-scale, “simple” collaboration based on direct relationships to larger, “complex” collaboration facilitated by central, mediating organizations.

Subject Area

School administration|Educational evaluation

Recommended Citation

Riggan, John Matthew, "Looking where the key is: Surfacing theories of change in complex, collaborative initiatives" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179796.