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Theory of Change Framework

Page history last edited by Alexandra Pittman 9 years, 5 months ago

The Theory of Change [1] approach makes explicit the assumptions – or theories – about why and how a program should create social change. The Theory of Change maps the relationships and steps between program activities, interim goals, and short-term and long-term outcomes, while also accounting for context, key allies, as well as unintended consequences. The organization develops their vision of what “success” looks like and highlights the social changes they desire. This mapping helps an organization to understand where they presently are and how they aim to achieve their vision, paying particular attention to identifying who will help them achieve their specific goals as well as outlining what is needed in order to maintain desired changes. They also consider what kinds of working relationships with specific constituents are needed in order to achieve their vision more effectively. The preconditions for achieving change are also mapped according to each constituent group in order to ensure solid assessment of the links between processes and outcomes. In addition, to developing a strong theory of how change happens, we must also develop strong "theories of constraints." Finally, the method emphasizes the role of the organization’s constituency and their role in developing the Theory of Change.


Five different variations on the Theory of Change approach are described, including a general, programmatic, and organizational approach:

[1] The Theory of Change framework has been adapted for the development sector, but the notion stems largely from decades of evaluation work by Dr. Carol Weiss, see Evaluation 1972 (1997).  




Comments (4)

Regina Lialabi said

at 5:03 am on Apr 9, 2011

We are using the theory of change in my organisation. The only challenge is sustaining the desired change.

Alexandra Pittman said

at 8:54 am on May 16, 2011

Excellent point, Regina, it seems that often the sustainability of change is not reflected in our theories, and we assume that changes will be sustained even though our interventions do not necessarily plan for that. Have you experimented with better ways of tracking and planning for sustainability?

Helene Clark said

at 11:12 am on May 16, 2011

When creating a TOC, it is important to develop the preconditions for sustainability as well as the preconditions for achieving the outcome in the first place. These are often quite different, e.g. for The Hunger Project their TOC for ending hunger is, of course, detailed, but when they talk about it being sustainable beyond their presence, there are many outcomes they seeks, such as being key players in the national govt or NGO conversation. Sometime, a separate "Sustainability TOC" helps sort out what is need for sustainability. The issue is difficult and comes up all the time.

Alexandra Pittman said

at 12:21 pm on May 16, 2011

I really like the idea of creating a separate sustainability TOC, Heléne, particularly as this could really strengthen the programmatic feedback and learning loop. Would you have any examples to share of a sustainability TOC?

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