Theory of Change

This guide, written by Patricia Rogers for UNICEF, looks at the use of theory of change in an impact evaluation. It demonstrates how it can be useful for identifying the data that needs to be collected and how it should be analysed. It also highlights its use as a framework for reporting. 


"A ‘theory of change’ explains how activities are understood to produce a series of results that contribute to achieving the final intended impacts. It can be developed for any level of intervention – an event, a project, a programme, a policy, a strategy or an organization.

A theory of change can be developed for an intervention:

  • where objectives and activities can be identified and tightly planned beforehand, or
  • that changes and adapts in response to emerging issues and to decisions made by partners and other stakeholders.

Sometimes the term is used generally to refer to any version of this process, including a results chain, which shows a series of boxes from inputs to outputs, outcomes and impacts (see figure 1), or a logframe, which represents the same information in a matrix."


  • Theory of change: a brief description
  • When is it appropriate to use a theory of change?
  • How to develop a theory of change
  • How to use a theory of change for an impact evaluation
  • Ethical issues and practical limitations
  • Which other methods work well with this one?
  • Presentation of a theory of change
  • Examples of good practices
  • Examples of challenges

See more in the Impact Evaluation Series here.

See also:

UNICEF Webinar: Theory of Change

As part of the UNICEF Impact Evaluation Series, and as an accompaniment to this brief, Professor Patricia Rogers hosts a webinar with UNICEF staff in which she discusses the different ways of developing and representing a Theory of Change (ToC) in an impact evaluation. She stresses the importance of reviewing and revising the ToC to guide data collection, analysis and reporting. Like the methodological briefs, the webinars were developed for UNICEF staff who commission or utilize the results from impact evaluations, but others interested in the topic are likely to benefit from viewing. The objective was to provide an interactive capacity-building experience covering common challenges from the field and answering practical questions. Selected de-identified Q&A outtakes are also included for viewing.

Rainbow Framework Task Page: Develop Programme Theory

This task, which sits in the DEFINE what is to be evaluated cluster in the Rainbow Framework, discusses why and how to develop a programme theory. It lays out a number of options for developing and representing programme theory, and links to further resources.



Rogers, P., (2014), Theory of Change, UNICEF. Retrieved from:

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