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A Simple Guide To The Theory Of Change Model

The theory of change model is a practical tool to help frame the desired impact of a project or initiative. This is done by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then working back to understand the required conditions and resources required to reach it.
One of the best things about the model is that it helps to define the measurement framework beyond initial indicators. In many projects in the corporate world, measurement is conducted in a way that only looks at the output rather than the impact. Short term indicators do not always equate to long term impact and the model helps to define in greater detail what the success of the project looks like.

The theory of change is often used in charities and Corporate Social Responsibility teams in businesses as well as in some change management teams. They are often project or initiative related, particularly those that are long term (3 years+) or want to create lasting change in their business or in society.
Here is a helpful video to explain it!

Theory of change is an important document, which should not be something that sits in a file on your desktop. It is best to be conducted at the start of the project/initiative and then referred to frequently. It is best used as a way to collectively focus on impact with key stakeholders.
Here are 5 simple steps to get started with a theory of change model.

1. Get the right people in the room

As the theory of change model focuses on the impact, it is important to have strategic decision makers in a room to collaborate on it. I have been in sessions where there are too many people in the room and it is completely ineffective.
Some ways to circumvent this is to have a few open sessions in the lead up with stakeholders who want to contribute to the impact. Ask them a series of questions including:
– What do you think are the biggest challenges facing this problem?
– Why should we solve it?
– What expertise or resources can we contribute in order to solve this problem?
– What do you think the long term impact should be of the project/initiative?

Once this information has been synthesised, you can prepare the workshop.

2. Brainstorm the problem and assumptions

It is important to understand the social, environmental and/or business problem in great detail. External research is a great way to get an understanding of the landscape. If there is a social problem, engaging experts like Professors or charities can help to give extra insights when shaping the project. It is also important to understand the assumptions you’re working with. For example, are you assuming that there will be the same leaders or policy throughout the project?
Circulate any research, problem definition and assumptions to the stakeholders who will be in the workshop prior to it.

3. Prepare the workshop

Define the people who will attend, send our pre-reading and create an agenda.
The agenda should have some key elements and a guide is below:
Introduction
– Overview and agreement on the problem to be solved
(this should be short and snappy as these conversations should have happened prior)
– Acknowledgment of work to date
(discuss who you have previously interviewed and any previous projects that have tried to address the problem)
Theory of Change Development
– Introduce the tool and discuss the key steps
– Use post-it notes for stakeholders to contribute their thoughts to each of the 5 sections.
Conclusion
– Read over the theory of change and ensure there is agreement on the impact section.
– Define next steps and operating rhythm to keep stakeholders engaged (example- weekly stand up, monthly dashboard, quarterly deep dive).

4. Conduct the workshop

Here is a guide of the steps for creating the workshops including some questions to ask. It is often helpful to split the model into the narrative and numbers. The narrative is how to talk about the project in relation to the impact and the numbers are indicators that can be used to form a dashboard for stakeholders to measure success.

You can download Planet B Insight’s PDF below, which also has a blank template.

5. Follow up

From the workshop, you can now create a theory of change narrative and dashboard.
The change narrative should be an easy to follow story that creates a compelling reason why the project should exist. This becomes a powerful communication tool for key stakeholders and ensures alignment.

TasCOSS Library provides a great example:

This is the step where you write the Theory of Change down as a story. It’s your chance to tell a compelling story about why this program is going to work. You can explain how the change will happen, what assumptions or research you have based it on, and what you are going to do. Sometimes a Theory of Change will also tell you something about an organisation’s history and vision.

Young people in our community face a depressed local economy and very high levels of youth unemployment. Some young people are particularly disadvantaged in making a transition from school to work because of histories of trauma and disengagement from school.

Emu Bay’s Youth Services are committed to helping our young people achieve their potential. Emu Bay’s Youth Services help young people to find meaningful long term employment through providing mentoring, school support, tailored work placements to increase their skills and through case coordination which supports them to deal with the issues affecting their lives.

The success of this service is dependent on the program engaging and maintaining the support of volunteer mentors, local businesses and schools and young jobseekers continuing to receive support from the Government.

Read the full article here.

Once the narrative and dashboard have been created, send it around to stakeholders for final feedback.

Further resources

NESTA: A slightly different way of setting it out but NESTA has some great resources.
Theory of Change Community
A link with more resources from Learning for sustainability.

Now it is time to get cracking on making an impact!!!!

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