Theory of Change

Theory of Change is a specific type of methodology for planning, participation, and evaluation that is used in the philanthropy, not-for-profit and government sectors to promote social change. The Skills Lab uses the Theory of Change method to support the planning of cultural change projects.

Theory of Change defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify necessary preconditions. Theory of Change explains the process of change by outlining causal linkages in an initiative, i.e., its shorter-term, intermediate, and longer-term outcomes. The identified changes are mapped showing each outcome in logical relationship to all the others, as well as chronological flow. The links between outcomes are explained by “rationales” or statements of why one outcome is thought to be a prerequisite for another.

The innovation of Theory of Change lies (1) in making the distinction between desired and actual outcomes, and (2) in requiring stakeholders to model their desired outcomes before they decide on forms of intervention to achieve those outcomes.

Theory of Change can begin at any stage of an initiative, depending on the intended use. A theory developed at the outset is best at informing the planning of an initiative. Having worked out a change model, practitioners can make more informed decisions about strategy and tactics. As monitoring and evaluation data become available, stakeholders can periodically refine the Theory of Change as the evidence indicates. A Theory of Change can be developed retrospectively by reading program documents, talking to stakeholders and using monitoring and evaluation data. This is often done during evaluations reflecting what has worked or not in order to understand the past and plan for the future.

[Adapted from Wikipedia Theory of Change Model entry]