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The EITI: designing a Theory of Change to improve developmental outcomes

Despite achieving many of its goals, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative must improve its natural resource governance and developmental outcomes. It also needs to move from transparency towards greater accountability. The authors of a new U4 paper argue that this can be realised through three Theory of Change models: a Naming and Shaming, Public Debate, and a Technical Reforms model. These models should suit the different contexts of each country and be able to evolve in response to developments.
24 August 2020
Aerial view of a mine with machinery and vehicles
Johnny Mclendon

Launched in 2003, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a major international effort to disclose information about extractive activities. Initially focused on payments between companies and governments, the EITI has evolved into a broader instrument. Today it also seeks to improve transparency and accountability, aiming to contribute to more developmentally effective extractive resources exploitation.

EITI has been most successful in reaching its institutional goals, and fairly successful with some operational goals. However, it is not clear whether the EITI has had any impact on its development goals.

Need for a Theory of Change

This, we suggest, calls for an explicit Theory of Change (ToC) — one that is able to clearly explain how the EITI is expected to improve natural resource governance and developmental outcomes. Our study confirms that many EITI stakeholders expect a ToC to be useful. We note that the EITI Board and International Secretariat are now embracing that view.

An explicit Theory of Change would clearly explain how the EITI is expected to improve natural resource governance and developmental outcomes

Based on previous literature, a survey, three country case studies, and a decade of engagement with the EITI, we thus introduce three simplified and stylised ToC models for the EITI:

  • Naming and Shaming, through which the EITI helps identify individuals or institutions that are mismanaging or embezzling revenues. The aim here is to curtail revenue loss and increase integrity.
  • Public Debate, with the EITI improving natural resource governance through increased knowledge among the public. The aim here is that people will then demand better resource governance.
  • Technical Reforms, with the EITI increasing the effectiveness of bureaucracies — so that they are better able to collect and allocate resources revenues.

Survey and interview results suggest that the Public Debate model is deemed to be the most important, the Technical Reforms model the most efficient, and the Naming and Shaming model the most relevant in the early phase of implementation.

The models are not mutually exclusive. They can also help structure discussions around the design and implementation of the EITI.

A Theory of Change should reflect the evolution of national contexts, objectives, and capabilities, so that it suits local conditions and evolves in response to changes

Unpacking the Theory of Change

Each of these models needs to be further elaborated, including at the subnational level, by identifying intermediary steps, implementing agencies, and mobilising civil society organisations (CSOs). A ToC should reflect the evolution of national contexts, objectives, and capabilities, so that it suits local conditions and evolves in response to changes. This will be both in terms of the EITI itself and the requirements of the implementing country. We note in this regard the following:

The Naming and Shaming model requires close links with effective investigations and prosecution — either at the national or international level. In this way it will be able to curtail revenue loss and increase integrity in resource management.

The Public Debate model relies in part on civil society having access to information and being capable of interpreting and mobilising it to effect change. This might take place through social movements or the political system. A lack of freedom of expression for CSOs in repressive political regimes can drastically undermine the viability of this model.

A relatively strong bureaucracy can help the Technical Reforms model deliver incremental changes, even in the absence of high-level political leadership. This opens the way to make the EITI effective, even within politically challenging contexts.

Support for the Theory of Change

Despite the importance of nationally contextualising and designing ToCs, the ToC also needs to be grounded at the EITI central level through common goals and the 2019 EITI Standard. The EITI Standard includes, among others, the EITI Principles, the EITI Requirements, and a protocol for civil society participation.

The EITI International Secretariat also has an important role to play. This can include the creation of ToC templates, support for national-level ToC design, as well as acting as a clearing house to exchange examples of ToCs and implementation experiences.

In summary, there is still a need for the EITI to go from transparency to accountability, and to demonstrate effective improvements. Clear ToC models that are suited to national contexts and objectives could help in this regard. Such models could not only identify and implement pathways towards improvements, but also provide a clearer way to assess progress.


We make the following recommendations:

  • The EITI Standard must not prevent countries from innovating and adapting to reflect their own requirements.
  • The EITI should constantly look to national- or local-level demands and initiatives as a source of inspiration.
  • Implementing countries can produce their own country-specific Theory of Change, with assistance from the EITI International Secretariat.
  • The promotion by EITI donors of efficient and relatively independent bureaucracies can deliver technical reforms. This is even in the absence of a strong political commitment to such changes.
  • The complex interplay between information dissemination processes, public awareness, and decision-making by companies and governments is a fundamental element for the EITI to consider.
  • The EITI should pursue efforts to include social and environmental dimensions within its framework.
  • A ToC should integrate ‘rights-based’ approaches. This will improve transparency and accountability on consent rights, as well as rights to a clean and healthy environment.
  • The EITI should foster a systematic monitoring of evidence of impact, including uptake of EITI findings and recommendations by relevant organisations.

Read more in A Theory of Change for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Designing resource governance pathways to improve developmental outcomes (U4 Issue 2020:11)

    About the authors

    Philippe Le Billon

    (PhD Geography, Oxford University, 1999) is a Professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs of the University of British Columbia (UBC). He works on the environment, development, and security nexus, with a focus on conflicts and natural resources including extractive sectors. He is the author of Wars of Plunder: Conflicts, Profits and the Politics of Resources.

    Päivi Lujala

    (PhD Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 2008) is a Professor at the Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu. Her research focuses on two broad topics: management of valuable natural resources in the Global South and adaption to climate (change) related natural hazards. Her work on natural resources has focused on citizen engagement, transparency, and accountability in natural resource revenue management.

    Siri Aas Rustad

    (PhD Political Science, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), 2012) is a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Her research interests are, among others, conflicts related to natural resources, natural resource management, conflict trends and dynamics, the geography of conflict, and human consequences of conflict. Her work has appeared in such journals as World Development, Political Geography, Journal of Peace Research, International Interactions, and Conflict Management and Peace Science.


    All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

    This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


    Johnny Mclendon
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