Plan Step One

PLAN - Step 1: What is Your Theory of Change?

How can a programme or intervention create change in a situation or community? A Theory of Change describes the most important processes, drivers or mechanisms needed to create change. The development of a Theory of Change can be based on research information, complimented by an intuitive and experiential understanding of how things work.

"It’s always best to start at the beginning — and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road." 

The Wizard of Oz

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Monitoring & Evaluation Examples

Case Study: New Beginnings Development Centre

The New Beginnings Development Centre in Belhar, Cape Town, aims to empower individuals who are at risk of falling through the gaps due to a lack of formal education. The centre provides life skills and training programmes to equip learners with marketable skills for employability across sectors. Once students have successfully completed the course, New Beginnings helps them to find employment in fields specific to the training they have been given. New Beginnings partnered with the DGMT to develop and share a programme situation analysis and outcomes chain to illustrate the concepts in this step.

We provide a concise and short situational analysis in our example. This is only possible as we have spent some time contemplating the problem in a thorough literature review, engaged in various discussions with subject experts and have prior experience working with NPOs dealing with similar challenges.  The views of experts and the literature review (see: Quick Guide: Doing a Literature Review for a Situation Analysis) substantiated our intuitive knowledge with scientific evidence. However, it was useful to understand the full scope of the problem and our Theory of Change (for connecting youth to education or an employment opportunity) improved greatly because of the deep understanding we developed while studying the roots of the problem. This is a more rigorous approach than simply relying on intuition or 'gut knowledge' although these are also important.

For our Outcomes Chain we decided to start by using the third method (see tool) - stating the impact and then working back by identifying the prerequisites for each level of outcome.  This did not work that well because the impact and long term outcomes that New Beginnings hope to achieve are so broad that one can think of a number of interventions and thus very different prerequisites or outcomes chains that make this possible. This method would work better when designing a new programme and exploring different intervention options. In this case it worked best to start with the final level short-term outcomes and to work backwards from that point. Because of this, we missed an outcome that was not ‘obviously’ part of what New Beginnings wanted to achieve. We only added 'life skills are passed onto children, spouses and other connections' after reflecting on all the other positive effects that might be a result of the New Beginnings programme. If we had used the first method (see tool) and identified all the possible outcomes, grouping and ordering them with ‘if then’ statements, we probably would not have missed that outcome. However, by asking yourself what the prerequisites are for something to happen, you are less likely to forget something important.  It can therefore be best to use a combination of the methods.

We did not always agree on whether a certain situation represented an outcome or whether it was something that the programme was assuming.  For example, we initially disagreed on whether the statement 'New Beginnings students are emotionally able to - and motivated to -  participate in skills development activities' was an outcome or an entry requirement for the programme (an assumption).  In the end it was both; New Beginnings do try to recruit participants that are motivated and emotionally able to participate successfully, but they also do a variety of other things to assist participants, such as counselling. Because of this, we decided to include it as an outcome because New Beginnings were providing specific services to achieve this.

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