STEP 1- Choosing TBE & Theory of Change (ToC)

This section covers:

Choosing Theory-Based Evaluation

Your very first step is to choose your type of evaluation. Why might you opt for a theory-based evaluation and more particularly a ToC approach?

  • It may be that your funder does not require you to use the logical framework, you may not have a funder, or you have one who is open to the idea of the ToC.
  • It may equally be that you want to learn more about how and why change actually happens.
  • It could also be that you want to challenge particular thinking or use an experimental approach that sits uncomfortably with received wisdom.

In all these circumstances, you may be interested in making sure that your intervention really does help. Or you may be worried that a metrics-based evaluation will fail to capture the more subtle, nuanced and hard-to-measure progress achieved by your project.

If any or all of the above apply then you may well decide to opt for a Theory-based evaluation and you may very well home in on the ToC approach.

What is the Theory of Change?

To recap, the ToC has, according to the Theory of Change website (itself drawing on from Piroska Bisits Bullen’s article), several key features:

  • Provides the big picture, including issues related to the environment or context that you cannot control
  • Shows a number of different pathways that might lead to change, even if those pathways are not related to your programme
  • Describes how and why you think change happens
  • Pays particular attention to assumptions built into your project design
  • Is presented as a diagramme with narrative text
  • Describes why you think one item/ box will lead to another item/ box (e.g., if you think increased knowledge will lead to behavior change, is that an assumption or do you have evidence to show it is the case?)
  • Is drawn up using a consultative process involving stakeholders
  • Is good for testing assumptions (propositions that are taken for granted, without reference to the facts), identifying unintended outcomes and for involving beneficiaries and stakeholders in thinking about a project, how it is working and how it could work better (Open University)
  • Gets participants thinking about projects, how change works and how it can be impeded. It can help you revise your assumptions and provide a narrative that can help to explain why a project has or has not worked

It has to be:

  • credible – based on previous experience and insight from your different stakeholders or relevant research
  • achievable – you have the necessary resources to carry out the intervention
  • accepted especially by stakeholders

Why use it?

Overall, the Theory of Change could be viewed as a more subtle way of capturing and understanding both the how and why of changes. It is arguably better suited to learning than the logical framework not least as there is an assumption that the ToC must be developed with the participation of stakeholders and beneficiaries. There is also a much more explicit focus than in the case of the logframe on:

  • how and why change is expected to happen (your theory of change)  
  • the context in which your project or programme is set
  • the risks and assumptions underpinning each step of your project
  • the links between outputs and outcomes (immediate, intermediate, longer-term)

How to construct your Theory of Change

For generic advice on how to construct your theory of change, please click here (Traditional Tools section)

Building Your Theory of Change into the 1-2-3 Method

For more specific advice on constructing your theory of change and integrating it into the Full 1-2-3 method, click here

Where to next?

Click here to return to the top of the page.

Once you have familiarised yourself with the concept of the Theory of Change, move on to Step 2 here.