Plan Step two

PLAN - Step 2: Fill the Gaps - Attributes and Assumptions

If you have completed Plan: Step 1 you will have developed a Theory of Change in the form of an outcomes chain. An outcomes chain is typically a brief and visual summary for communication and presentation, but on its own is not sufficient for evaluating a programme. It is important to describe attributes (keyword definitions) because they unpack the meaning of outcomes. You also need to describe your assumptions or expectations about factors that affect the achievement of your outcomes. Identifying these assumptions could help you to avoid challenges that can undermine the success of your programme. It is also critical to consider when you want to evaluate the success of the programme.

“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew). Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.”

Rudyard Kipling (1902)

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Assumptions and Attributes for the New Beginnings Development Centre

In the case study for Plan: Step 1 (Theory of Change) we saw an example of the New Beginnings Development Centre Outcomes Chain. Underlying these outcomes are a number of programmatic assumptions and attributes and it can be very helpful to make these explicit.

For example, the outcome 'New Beginnings students successfully graduate from life skill and technical skill training programmes' has seven different underlying assumptions. Assumption one states that 'students who have the ability to understand and internalise the workshop training are picked.” If this assumption holds true, students will be able to successfully graduate. New Beginnings have actually found that in a small number of cases, this assumption has not held. In the past some students have struggled to cope with the amount of work and assignments required. They have attempted to mitigate this challenge in cases where there is insufficient English ability, and have sent students to Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) classes prior to the programme.

As we can see, identifying some of these underlying assumptions could also assist organisations to alleviate challenges or disruptions that undermine programme success, especially when they are in full or partial control of a programme.

Attributes are also important for understanding the outcomes chain, as they break down the meaning of outcomes. They can also help us to identify or create more specific and valid indicators. New Beginnings define 'successfully graduate' in the outcome example above as, 'the student must complete the full practical and pass life-skills with a minimum of 50% and achive a technical course mark of 60%.' Without this detail, the outcome is not as meaningful and might be misunderstood. 

We sat down with New Beginnings to document all the attributes and assumptions linked to their outcomes. Have a look at the table below that we prepared for them.  We did this as an illustration and were trying to be very thorough. It might not always be necessary to do such a detailed exercise. Defining the most important terms and identifying the most important underlying assumptions might be sufficient in many cases.

Take a look

Assumptions and Attributes Table for New Beginnings