Insight Note

The Secret Sauce of Development Professionals: Tools for Assessing TOR Potential to Source Scalable Learning Interventions

Key Points

  • Terms of Reference (TORs) and other procurement documents directly shape whether and how educational programming functions on the ground.
  • Successful development practitioners hold rich knowledge for designing and assessing TORs that can sustainably improve learning at scale in developing contexts.
  • This Insight Note codifies experts’ evaluative processes for effective TOR creation via two tools: a conceptual framework and a reflective checklist.
  • Development professionals structure their thinking in terms of 10 reflective questions across four interlocking levels.
  • Practitioners can use this framework and checklist to scaffold TOR development and review in line with experts’ best practice processes.


Image of Adam Barton

Adam Barton

University of Cambridge


Terms of reference (TORs) play an outsized role in driving scalable educational programming. These procurement documents shape, constrain, and signal programme priorities and possibilities. Successful funders and implementers across the globe hold rich processual knowledge about this documentation, which they use to draft and assess TORs. This project explores such best-practice knowledge around TOR review, seeking to support the design and implementation of educational programmes that can improve learning at scale in developing contexts.

This research builds a practical guide aiming to codify best practice knowledge for effective TOR development. It specifically surfaces the analytical processes and prioritisations that successful practitioners use to evaluate TOR potential. Data emerges from hands-on interviews with 18 expert international funders and implementers who reviewed a real-world TOR. A specialist panel then stress tested preliminary findings. Their insights inspired the creation of two tools: a conceptual framework illustrating a successful procurement ecosystem and a reflective checklist for TOR review.

Development practitioners can use these tools to scaffold their thinking when designing and assessing TORs for scalable learning interventions in developing contexts. The framework and checklist aim to inspire, rather than prescribe, procurement practice. Practitioners should begin by considering the specific aims and needs of their proposed projects. They can then assess TOR potential along the following four framework elements and in line with ten reflection questions.

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To read the full publication, view the Insight Note in PDF format.


Barton, A. 2023. The Secret Sauce of Development Professionals: Tools for Assessing TOR Potential to Source Scalable Learning Interventions. 2023/054.