A THEORY OF CHANGE APPROACH
In the previous blog, we talked about how project managers identify the purpose and scope of M&E. We outlined one of the steps in this stage, which is the Log Frame. Today we will discuss another key step, understanding the Theory of change. Mostly abbreviated as ToC, the Theory of Change is a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. According to Hivos, a Theory of Change (ToC) approach helps in deepening your understanding – and that of your partners – of how you collectively think change happens and what the effect will be of your intervention. Not only does it show what political, social, economic, and/or cultural factors are in play, it also clarifies your assumptions. Once a ToC has been developed, it can be used to continually reflect on it in ways that allow for adaptation and checking of assumptions of your intervention.
A Theory of Change is developed because it:
- Helps move stakeholders from being passive collectors and reporters of information to active users of the information for system planning and service delivery.
- Helps system and program staff better understand the kind of evaluation information they need to make day to day decisions.
- Assists the evaluator develop research questions that focus measurement on changes that can occur given the particular strategies that are operative of the system, program and client level.
- Facilitates understanding the link between strategies and the achievement of outcomes, the integration of data from broader evaluation and accreditation requirements into local evaluation efforts.
- Also assists those implementing strategies to understand assumptions and expectations that guide their decisions, actions and resulting accomplishments.
A TOC typically:
- Give a bigger picture on issues that are related to the environment/context, issues that you cannot control.
- Shows pathways that may lead to change even if those pathways aren’t related to your program.
- Helps you to describe on why you think one action will lead to another action in your program.
- Articulates assumptions underlying the strategic thinking of the design policy, programme or project.
How therefore does a Theory of Change look like? ToC has no standard format because different organizations will develop it differently and in a format that they can best understand.This is usually because of brainstorming sessions that take place as different team members give their views on how the main goal can be achieved.The diagram below represents a simple illustration of ToC elements.
DFID have put together 10 examples of Theories of Change from their programs. You will see there is no standard format, although they all include a diagram and narrative text.
How therefore do you create a Theory of Change?
To come up with a successful Theory of Change, it is important to identify the group you are working with,their needs and characteristics and lastly the FINAL goal that you want to be achieved.This final goal should describe the change to be seen in the community as a whole.Once the final goal/long term outcome has been worked out,the team actually works from this point backwards lining out all the possible steps that will lead to the goal being achieved. Doing this can helps one to think in terms of intermediate outcomes,which are the changes that will contribute to the achievement of the final goal. Intermediate results should be something your project can clearly make a difference to but also be linked logically to your ultimate goal.Once the initial set and intermediate outcomes have been set, you then need to consider how the activities you carry out will make this happen.This may include describing:
- The resources you will use.
- The activities you will carry out.
- Features that make the activities successful
- How users will engage with your project to make it work.
The DFID Evaluation Department Draft Checklist for theories of change (July 2012) gives an overview of what to ensure your ToC communicates. Find this below
In conclusion, a Theory of Change cannot be developed by a single person.Doing so may lead to exclusion of some key activities which may lead to failure and thus the reason why a ToC is developed by a team,brainstorming ideas and trying to figure out what can be and cannot be done at any given stage.
Only after this can your organization develop a fully functional ToC and be able to use it, often adjusting activities in accordance to the situations experienced by the project.