Theory of Change is “a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context.” It is used to “… identify the desired long-term goals and then works back from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another causally) for the goals to occur.”1,2 In addition, a Theory of Change process assesses the assumptions and contextual factors which would positively or negatively influence the chain of results.
The Theory of Change can be developed by starting with a series of results chains, then identifying how they interlink as a web of activities and results. These could be categorised as: inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact. The language can also be adapted, for example: short, medium and long-term results/milestones. It also leads to better evaluation, as it is possible to measure progress towards the achievement of longer-term goals that goes beyond the identification of program outputs.
To start, a good theory of change should answer six big questions3:
1. Who are you seeking to influence or benefit (target population)?
2. What benefits are you seeking to achieve (results)?
3. When will you achieve them (time period)?
4. How will you and others make this happen (activities, strategies, resources, etc.)?
5. Where and under what circumstances will you do your work (context)?
6. Why do you believe your theory will bear out (assumptions)?
We recommend this tool appropriate for project levels 3-5 and 6-10 (see the M&E Capacity Checklist tool).
Insights from peers: Learn more here what Accountability Lab learnt while updating their Theory of Change.
Find out more in this video introduction to Theory of Change by the Results for Development Institute.
CIVICUS’ Theory of Change for civil society resourcing
Have a look at this example and how we created a ToC for our work around civil society resourcing, including the ToC visualisation and narrative report to accompany the graphic.