The Theory of Change (“ToC”) was developed in the 1960s as an approach to planning, monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment to ensure that the marginalised voices are included in developing the vision and that change happens through the lens of the end beneficiaries. ToC is a form of “critical theory” that results in an agreed model of change. This model of change then informs the development, implementation and evaluation of plans and results frameworks at all levels.
The focus is on what will change for whom as a result of our efforts, NOT on what we will do or achieve.
In practical terms, the ToC causal model of planning, monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment begins with the process of bringing together key stakeholders so we can agree how change happens in the current context, our influences, responsibilities, and our most effective roles in contributing to changes. With our stakeholders, we identify barriers and challenges. Together short, medium- and long-term outcomes are agreed to develop a model of change (not a plan) that we think will contribute to desired changes. As the context changes, we test the model and adapt and adjust the model for the new context. As part of the impact assessment, we not only measure expected and planned impacts but also unexpected and unplanned changes so that the learning from the successes and failures can be taken forward to inform future projects.
The ToC process gives a detailed and direct understanding of the links between activities and desired goals. This understanding leads on to developing a better measure of progress and evaluation, as well as an improved understanding of impact, both planned and unplanned. ToC causal pathway is developed using a backwards mapping approach, which starts with the long-term goals and plots the required process of change and the short- and medium-term outcomes required to achieve this. During this process, the assumptions about what needs to be in place to achieve the outcomes are made explicit as well as the contextual factors which influence the ToC. Additional elements of a ToC include beneficiaries, research evidence supporting the ToC, actors in the context, sphere of influence, strategic choices and interventions, timelines and indicators. The ToC process adds rigour and strengthens other approaches such as logic models and the ToC causal pathway is an excellent communication tool for the programme