Theory of Change

Down at THINK HQ, we’ve recently spent some time working out how to tell our story more clearly.  We wanted to show others what THINK’s overall goal is – the ultimate change we want to see in the sector -and then show how what we do is getting us there.

At the same time, a couple of the THINK Team had been doing some more in-depth reading and research about ‘Theory of Change’, a particular participatory method sometimes used by charities to help with their planning, communicating and evaluating.

Cue to a hands-on, participatory team session with the THINK consultants.  Prep and pre-planning done.  Tools at the ready: post-it notes, paper plates, blu-tack, string.  A dozen consultants ready to challenge and discuss.  Ripe for jeopardy!

And yet taking part in the Theory of Change session was one of the more rewarding things we’ve all done.  Even though there is no shortage of academic articles and papers on how Theory of Change models work, an array of jargon and lingo, and any number of determined approaches or planning tools available, we quickly realised the power of undertaking the task simply and with an open mind.

Simply, a Theory of Change process compels you to start by thinking hard about the goal you want to achieve, set against the problems you know exist; not starting with a list of what you do.  In other words, going backwards.  For THINK, we were able to agree collectively that our goal is ‘to support not for profits to generate the money, time, goods and influence to achieve universal well-being.’

The Theory of Change model then asks you to consider the ‘pre-conditions’ that need to be in place for that overall goal to be achieved.  Again, the process meant that we weren’t thinking about the list of things THINK does.  Rather, what are the things that need to be in place for our charity clients?  We came up with four pre-conditions: effective Strategies, quality Skill Development, Donor Trust and fair Regulation.

So, we now had our overall goal, and the pre-conditions needed.  Onto the nitty gritty of stating what THINK should be doing if we wanted the four pre-conditions to be met.  Not what we do, what needs to be done.  This is when the Theory of Change process really adds value.  Because it is logically linked to what we’re aiming for, it clearly supports or challenges the activities that already happen.  It can also help join multiple activities together, presenting a long list of activities as part of a cohesive whole.

At THINK, we are now fans of Theory of Change.  It’s really helped us tell our story, and we’re pleased to be able to share our new infographic laying out our overall goal, what we achieve, and what we do.  It’s helping us with the evaluation we want to put in place, and the planning we need to do.

But we also wanted to pass on some top tips for those considering undertaking a Theory of Change themselves:

  • Get all stakeholders involved.
  • Always use a facilitator. You need to make sure you keep on track.
  • Take your time, and do the task over a few sessions. It gives time to pause and reflect
  • Use simple, hands on, creative tools to capture your discussions. (We liked paper plates!)
  • Recognise that Theory of Change is a process, not a product in of itself.
  • Accept that the planning sessions will throw up lots of activities and conditions that are out of your control, or not within your areas of expertise.

Theory of Change Infographic V4.pdf