Top-Down or Bottom-Up? Towards a Theory of Change for Human Rights Practice in Iran

  • Rebecca BarlowEmail author
  • Shahram Akbarzadeh
Part of the Studies in Iranian Politics book series (STIRPO)


In the Islamic Republic of Iran, as in other highly restricted environments, there are major problems with employing human rights discourse to pursue change. Local proponents of human rights have been subject to intense harassment, intimidation and repression at the hands of the regime. They also face internal challenges around leadership, organisation and capacity. One way of addressing these problems is to work towards grounding human rights work in Iran within a ‘theory of change’: that is, the strategic linking of a goal or concept (the theory) with the mechanisms or methodologies that are designed to deliver on the promise of the goal or concept (the change). Building on work by Paul Gready and Wouter Vandenhole (Human Rights and Development in the New Millennium: Towards a Theory of Change. Routledge, 2014) on agents of change and their key entry points, this chapter explores two distinct approaches to change in Iran: the political reform movement, exhibiting a top-down/inside-track approach; and the women’s movement’s One Million Signatures Campaign, exhibiting a bottom-up/outside track approach. The authors consider a series of fundamental factors put forward by Rosalind Eyben et al. (Development in Practice 18, no. 2: 201–12, 2008) underpinning the development of a theory of change: objectives, targets, strategies, constraints, roles, relationships and context.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

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