How to Develop a Theory of Change

How to Develop a Theory of Change

  1. Who will take the lead in the development of the Theory of Change and who will participate? This is the first decision that needs to be made. There is good reason to develop programme theory (see 'Why a Theory of Change is important' via the video or read the text). Who leads and who participates in the programme  will depend on your reasons for developing one. The best programme theories are developed with group input and the process of doing so is beneficial to all the participants. To save time, a draft can be developed by one person and then reviewed in a group. For an evaluation plan, it is important to include all the programme managers in this process.

  2. If you are already implementing a programme, it is likely you have already done a situation analysis which has informed the programme strategy and activities. This is the starting point for the Theory of Change. If you are beginning to develop a programme, a situation analysis might include a detailed process of reviewing research and interviewing community members or stakeholders to gather data for analysis. If you have already done this, it is worthwhile providing a brief descriptive summary of the problem to give context to your Theory of Change. Answering focused questions can guide you in doing the situation analysis. For more information, see 'Tool: Ways to do a Situation Analysis and to Describe Your Programme Focus' and read our case study for an example.  Something else that might be useful is our 'Quick Guide to Doing a Literature Review for a Situation Analysis.'    

  3. The next step is focusing - deciding on and articulating your programme strategy. In doing this you will look at the limitations or boundaries of your programme. In the situation analysis, which parts of the problem or opportunity will you address and what will be out of programme scope or boundary? It is important to try and foresee if the parts that fall outside of the scope will impact on your intended outcomes. For example, an organisation providing skills training for unemployed people might improve their employability, but the lack of job opportunities in the market will affect the ultimate goal of the programme (to reduce unemployment). Such aspects or variables must be taken into account in programme evaluation. Have a look at the case study for this section.

  4. After working on your programme focus, develop the ‘outcomes chain’ (see an example). An outcomes chain shows the assumed cause and effect between immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes or impact. An outcomes chain is a tool to use when thinking about how the programme functions. When a new programme is designed, this becomes the primary rationale for choosing programme activities, resource allocation and selecting performance indicators. There are various ways to develop an outcomes chain and it is up to you to try different methods and see what works best. For help, see the guidelines in 'Ways to Develop an Outcomes Chain Tool'. Have a look at the case study discussion and example before you start working on your own outcomes chain.