Theories of Change

There’s a cartoon that shows two academics staring at a complex calculation on a blackboard, and about half-way through the calculation there’s the statement “then a miracle occurs”, to which one of the men says “I think you should be more explicit here in step two”.

Indeed, we often marvel at the outcomes of programs and services we deliver, but do we know by what “miracle” we’ve actually achieved those outcomes? Similarly, people come to the conclusion that a particular program or service has been ineffective and discontinue it, without even being able to review where the program or service went ever-so-slightly but ultimately significantly off the rails.

By going through the challenge of articulating a comprehensive Theory of Change model which would explain our actions and decisions, an alternative way of working is presented. Using this framework, we can work collaboratively to explain and align needs of different stakeholders, available resources, and intended outcomes. We can map out actions and interconnections, as well as identify indicators of success. We can be held accountable for the underlying values and assumptions of our arguments. It also becomes possible to correct our course, investigate reasons for disappointments, and scale or replicate successful projects.

The Centre for Theory of Change has an excellent description of how such a model can be developed. Check it out! You’ll find it much easier to identify and measure the social impacts that grow from your efforts.


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