Theory of Change: 9 Insightful Tips to Help You Make an Impact
There are many social programs being implemented by different organizations and corporations. According to these organizations, they are doing a great job towards making a positive impact in people's lives.
But how can these entities lay the grand claim that their operations have translated to meaningful and lasting impacts? Well, their claims are anchored on the Theory of Change (TOC). This theory elaborates why a certain method of doing things will be successful, describing how the change will occur in both the short and long terms to achieve the desired impact.
This theory is usually created at the onset of a project (for purposes of strategic planning) or used to describe an existing work so that you can evaluate its impact. In our brief rundown, we have provided key How-To tips to help your organization strategize around making an impact using the theory of change.
1. Plan the Process
To achieve the best outcome, start by determining the ultimate purpose of your organization's theory of change. For instance, will you be using it to strategize a new intervention or to evaluate an ongoing project?
Identifying the purpose of the theory of change will help you choose the best process to use and determine whom you will involve in the process. If you use your theory of change to plan a new project, you may want to involve important decision-makers such as your staff, the beneficiaries, among other external stakeholders.
Let your theory also be open and flexible to new ideas and working methods suggested by the persons you bring onboard. However, if your team lacks requisite expertise in the theory of change, it is prudent to consider involving an external consultant.
2. Collect Enough Evidence
A theory of change has to be based on knowledge and understanding of the needs to be addressed. As such, consider the following key evidence categories to guide you through.
• Evidence of Need - This evidence is key to help you to grasp why your intervention program is important and the specific/immediate needs of your beneficiaries
• Evidence of Context - Entails an examination of existing service providers, support already given to your beneficiaries as well as external and internal factors that may affect your intervention
• Evidence of Effectiveness - Involves measuring the success of previous interventions that sought to achieve the end outcomes you anticipate. The evidence you gather will help you decide on a specific implementation method that is best suited to make the impact you desire.
You can find the evidence in your organization's reports (or other organizations), academic literature, or the experience and expertise of stakeholders. Where this evidence is unavailable, you may have to develop ways to collect it as the first step in developing your theory of change.
3. Determine Your Intended Impact
The major issue you need to solve with your project should be highlighted in the ultimate resolution in the theory of change. This is the intended change. Your intended impact is an integral part of the theory of change, the goal towards which everything is directed.
Your impact statement should also succinctly describe the long-term change you want to see. You may also want to account for how the impact statement agrees with funding programs and other priorities.
4. Consider the Long-Term Outcomes
Determine your desired outcomes and the order in which you want them to occur. You can plan to work backward from the desired impact/outcome as you evaluate the changes needed to achieve intended outcomes.
The changes you need to make are also known as necessary pre-conditions. Simply put, these are the basic things that you must change before you can achieve your long-term impact. It is easy to identify these pre-conditions by examining the factors that contribute to the key problems you are trying to solve with your work.
5. Identify Outputs
At this stage, you can now evaluate which outputs (such as services, products, facilities, or persons) you will need to realize the identified outcomes. It will require you to creatively think about which outputs are the most efficient to guarantee you the desired results.
The best approach here is reviewing external research and looking out for outputs that have previously brought you the desired outcomes in the past.
6. Clarify Assumptions
Assumptions are the unstated or unexplained logic/reason behind your entire program. However, it is important to explore and clarify all assumptions since they affect how successful your intervention will be.
7. Set Timelines and Plan for Resources
Do not forget to set timelines for the completion of activities and achieving of outcomes. Deadlines help you to shape the expectations of stakeholders concerning what will be realized by your intervention efforts.
It will also enable you to determine which activities to do at what time so that you can know the required resources at different stages and thus budget appropriately.
8. Create Your Diagram and Include a Narrative
As you come to the end of developing your theory of change, it is prudent to produce it in the most useful and relevant format. Maps or diagrams are more helpful and are easier to understand.
You can also consider writing a narrative theory of change to accompany the diagram as a more detailed description of the theory. Diagrams alone can be ambiguous, especially for persons who were not part and parcel of developing the theory of change.
9. Time to Use Your Theory
Voila, your theory of change is ready for use. The theory of change will help you plan your project accordingly and remain on track with the laid strategies to make the desired impact.
ToC can also be an excellent tool to communicate your project and its intended impact. In addition, it gives you a basis to develop a successful evaluation framework for your project. A theory of change is also a live document. Consider reviewing it as new evidence is gathered or as you change the methods of operation.
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For more information and queries on the Theory of Change and how you can use it to make an impact, feel free to Contact Us today/Request a Demo, and we will be more than willing to assist.