What It Is
A theory of change is a tool to help organizations articulate their social change initiatives. A theory of change is a clear articulation of the problem an organization or program is setting out to address; the strategies it employs to address the problem; the target constituencies (organizations and/or individuals that will be reached by the strategies); and the desired short- and long-term outcomes. We accompany a theory of change with a documentation of key assumptions and contextual issues that may influence or guide the work. By listing and organizing the building blocks required to achieve a social change initiative’s long-term goals, a theory of change lays out a roadmap showing the pathways and interventions necessary to reach the intended results.
Theory of Change or Logic Model?
The key distinction between these two tools is that a theory of change is strategic, and a logic model is tactical. Both are useful tools; they are just different. A theory of change links strategies and outcomes to explain the assumptions inherent in the work. It explains the “how” and “why” desired change is expected to come about. A logic model, on the other hand, is descriptive of the systematic process of producing desired outcomes. It describes “what” is taking place to achieve “what” desired change.
Informing Change has crafted an approach to developing a theory of change that is productive and engaging. We understand that theory by itself does not deliver results, and we appreciate that organizations are not static institutions, but lively and vibrant organisms. We facilitate an iterative process with key organizational stakeholders in which we collectively define the problems an organization or program is setting out to solve, the strategies to be employed, the target constituencies and the desired short- and long-term results.
We have found that our approach accomplishes three objectives: 1) it brings discipline and alignment to practice, ensuring that there is logical coherence to the work and expected results; 2) it serves as a roadmap for an evaluation that is realistic and based on the actual work and aspirations; and 3) it builds team spirit among participants, raising awareness of “the whole” and where and how each member contributes to the whole.
The process usually requires three or four facilitated meetings of two or more hours in duration. Each meeting builds upon the one before until the participants have collectively crafted a theory of change that accurately and elegantly describes the organization’s work, strategies, tactics and intended outcomes to everyone’s satisfaction. For each meeting, Informing Change prepares a graphic depiction of the theory as it evolves, and participants are asked to review those documents and complete small periodic “homework assignments” between meetings.
The final product is a graphic depiction of the theory of change presented in a PowerPoint deck. The deck includes a one-page overview and individual slides providing a detailed explanation of each component of the theory of change and relevant internal and external context and assumptions.