Theory of Change

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A theory of change describes how the intervention is expected to affect the outcomes of interest(based on theory) but it does not demonstrate whether the intervention causes the observed outcomes. It usually includes the most important outcomes(intermediate and final) that are critical to the casual chain, even if not all will be measured(see example).

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A theory of change sets the structure for the hypotheses, evaluation questions, and outcomes of interest. It also lists key indicators for developing the implementation protocol and IE monitoring system aimed at understanding what is being evaluated, and whether the critical intervention activities/components were implemented/taken up as planned.


How does a theory of change work?


TOC maps out your initiative through 6 stages:

  1. Identifying long-term goals
  2. Backwards mapping and connecting the preconditions or requirements necessary to achieve that goal and explaining why these preconditions are necessary and sufficient.
  3. Identifying your basic assumptions about the context.
  4. Identifying the interventions that your initiative will perform to create your desired change.
  5. Developing indicators to measure your outcomes to assess the performance of your initiative.
  6. Writing a narrative to explain the logic of your initiative.

The TOC process hinges upon defining all of the necessary and sufficient conditions required to bring about a given long term outcome. TOC uses backwards mapping requiring planners to think in backwards steps from the long-term goal to the intermediate and then early-term changes that would be required to cause the desired change. This creates a set of connected outcomes known as a “pathway of change”. A “pathway of change” graphically represents the change process as it is understood by the initiative planners and is the skeleton around which the other elements of the theory are developed.

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This article is part of the topic Experimental Methods

Additional Resources

Theory of Change has the power to radically enhance the capacity of social change organizations and initiatives to achieve their goals and demonstrate their impact. It grounds planning and strategy in the reality and evidence base of what is necessary to achieve change. Theory of Change is also critical to evaluation, providing a framework that allows organizations to know what to evaluate and when. It builds on – and can usefully incorporate data gathered through – other approaches that have been developed to improve planning and evaluation, including ‘logic models/logframes’ and ‘results frames’.

  • Examples of Theories of Change [[1]]