Theory of change - guidance on developing, representing, and using

This page sets out some suggestions about what might be considered good practice, adequate practice and inadequate practice in developing, representing and using programme theory (also known as theory of change or logic models).  Please add your feedback and suggestions in our forum or share your comments on twitter @bettereval or FaceBook

How to develop it

1. Decide the process to be used - Who will be involved with what roles and responsibilities, and what sources of information will be used and prioritised.

Inadequate practice Brainstorm with Post-It notes or just repackage planning documents
Adequate practice Systematic process drawing on previous planning, research and evaluation, plus insights from program managers and other key informants
Better practice Ensure processes in place for direct voice from clients in terms of what the project/program is trying to achieve and how

2. Undertake a situation analysis - Identify the problem s or needs that will be addressed, their underlying causes, and what strengths and opportunities could be leveraged

Inadequate practice Only focused on problems
Adequate practice Include all relevant problems/needs and also identify existing resources and opportunities and analyse match with the organisation's mission and priorities

3. Identify intended outcomes and impacts - In broad terms, not limiting them at this stage to what can be easily measured

Inadequate practice Narrowly define impacts in terms of what can be readily measured
Adequate practice Describe intended outcomes and impacts in broad terms and address standards of performance and measurement plans separately

4. Identify change theories  in broad terms, how it is understood that a particular change comes about

Inadequate practice Identify none or only one 

Only address one or two different levels of change – individuals, organizations, eco-system
Adequate practice Be explicit about different change theories at different levels and in different contexts, and the match with the organization’s niche

Identify change theories at the different levels
Better practice Identify the interconnections between change theories at the different levels

 5. Identify action theories - what will be done to activate each of the change theories

Inadequate practice List activities
Adequate practice Identify activities to achieve specific outcomes at various levels and stages in the causal chain
Better practice Identify different activities relevant in different contexts

6. Address sustainability - how is it understood that the achievements of the project will be maintained (which might not involve continuing the project activities)

Inadequate practice Not addressed
Adequate practice Strategy for sustainability is explicit and plausible

7. Address scaling - how is it understood that the scale of activities and impact will be increased

Inadequate practice Not addressed or not logically represented
Adequate practice Strategy for scaling is explicit and plausible

 8. Identify possible significant unintended impacts - (positive and negative)

Inadequate practice Possible negative impacts not addressed

Possible unintended positive impacts not addressed
Adequate practice Possible significant negative impacts are identified and monitored as part of risk management

Possible significant unintended positive impacts are identified and included
Better practice Strategies put in place where appropriate  to reduce the risk of identified possible negative impacts. 

Ongoing scanning for additional possible significant unintended impacts

9. Review and revise the theory of change - at periodic intervals and as necessary

Inadequate practice Either ‘set and forget’ or constant tinkering with little benefit
Adequate practice Develop a ‘good enough’ version and then iteratively review and revise to address important issues

How to represent it

Represent the theory of change – using one or more diagrams and narrative

Inadequate practice Use a linear logic model of inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts

Use one diagram for all purposes

Develop an idiosyncratic diagram
Adequate practice Use an outcomes hierarchy diagram to show the change theories and explain the action theories in an accompanying narrative

Use different but related versions for different purposes, especially in terms of levels of detail

Develop a diagram which explicitly draws on theories of change for that portfolio
Better practice Use a triple column outcomes hierarchy which shows how activities and other factors jointly produce a chain of results 

Diagram which is integrated with nested diagrams for related projects, programs and the overall organization theory of change

How to use it

Use the theory of change - to plan and integrate research, monitoring and evaluation

Inadequate practice Use only to identify indicators and specific causal relations to be tested
Adequate practice Use in all discussions of findings to shape and improve thinking about how the program or project works