A theory of change is a framework that helps organisations with understanding and explaining how they deliver impact. By having a theory of change, you ensure cohesion between the activities you and your organisation do, the behavioral changes and short term results that leads to final long term result and impact.
A Theory of Change (ToC) helps guide organisations through the labyrinth of impact initiatives. It's a blueprint that illuminates the journey from aspirations to tangible outcomes.
In this article, we'll walk you through the process of creating a robust Theory of Change, enabling your organisation to navigate the complexities of social transformation with clarity and purpose.
Begin by articulating your organisation's overarching vision. What change do you wish to bring to the world? Define your ultimate goal, whether it's improving education, alleviating poverty, or enhancing environmental sustainability. This vision sets the stage for your Theory of Change, anchoring it in a compelling purpose.
One of the things that many organisations forget to do, is do a thorough mapping of stakeholders affected by the potential effects and impact of the intervention. Here, it’s important to include all stakeholders that could be affected, and preferably also specify how important it is for them to be affected.
For example, if you have an intervention targeting young people’s nightlife safety, stakeholders could be parents, police authorities, public transport companies, municipalities, but also school teachers, and business owners in nearby vicinity.
These stakeholders will benefit from an increase in nightlife safety, and they can provide important insights as to the change you create, which could support and improve your impact reporting in the end.
Here, we actually suggest organisations to start off formulating the intended impact, then the outcomes, and lastly the outputs. Our experience is that it heightens the focus on impact and outcomes, as it will allow you to critically judge whether or not your activities are likely to support the impact-goal.
Outcomes are long-term beneficial results for the participant and potentially also certain stakeholders. For example, if you aim at getting vulnerable adolescents closer to employment, your intended outcome could be to increase the amount of the participants who get or maintain a job, but depending on the target audience and your activities it could also be to ensure that they finish their studies, as that would increase the likelihood of them getting and keeping a job. It is important that the intended outcomes can be attributed to your intervention, so you don't take credit for changing the world with a very limited intervention. So, remember to be realistic with what you can attribute to your intervention.
When you’ve settled on the intended outcomes, it’s also important to consider the data indicators that could prove the success of your intervention.
Outputs are known as the “small steps on the way” that happen due to your activities, and that helps you reach the intended outcome. Outputs are usually direct, measurable and tangible results of activities.
If we take the example of an intervention aimed at vulnerable adolescent employment, outputs could be how many of them show up at time at school or a current work, an increase in collaboration abilities, learning new corporate skills, or increased wellbeing.
Measuring these aspects will help you determine if your intervention is on track to reach your outcome, and whether or not the participants are progressing as intended.
If you find it hard, you’re not alone - it can be difficult to formulate a Theory of Change. That’s why we’ve arranged Impact Workshops where organisations get help setting up a measurable theory of change.
Inputs and activities are the building blocks of your intervention. So everything you intend to throw into the pot to ensure you achieve the desired change.
Activities are the specific actions you'll do to trigger change (outputs) and results (outcomes). Activities could be group consultations with a psychologist, participating in individual mentoring, physical activities, or hosting workshops.
Having started by determining the intended outputs and outcomes, it will be easier to see whether or not your activities are likely to help reach the goals set out.
Again, it may not be easy, so if you need help getting started, you can sign up for our Impact Workshop.
Inputs encompass all the resources that you “invest”, in order to create and drive the activities. It could be economic funds, staff, partnerships, volunteering etc. Expenses and staff costs are relevant for most interventions, but maybe you also spend resources establishing partnerships and collaborations. Here, it’s important to state how many resources are put into this work, what the goal is, and how your organisation benefits from this work.
Map out the logical sequence of events that will lead to your intended outcomes. Connect the dots between inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and ultimate impact. This interconnected pathway, also known as the 'intervention logic,' visually demonstrates how your efforts create a ripple effect of change.
Data is the currency of evidence-based impact. Design a data collection plan that aligns with your Theory of Change. Identify key indicators for each outcome and determine how you'll gather relevant information. Robust data collection allows you to measure and document progress, learn from experiences, and adapt your intervention as needed.
We’ve helped organisations set up data strategies that gave them whole new insights, so be careful not to overlook indicators, opportunities or challenges.
A Theory of Change is not set in stone; it's a living framework that thrives on learning and adaptation. Regularly review and analyze data to gauge your progress. Celebrate successes and address challenges by refining your strategies. Embrace the flexibility to modify your Theory of Change based on insights gained along the way.