Building a ToC

Generic advice on constructing a ToC is given in our Traditional Tools section.

We recommended using the approach below (which is itself inspired by the work of Les Robinson) to building your Theory of Change and integrating it into 1-2-3 Method.

Figure 1: The Process of Developing Your Theory of Change

Each of the above stages is written out below in the order in which they are most likely to occur.

  1. Research/ Understand context of your project & agree/define desired long-term goal
  2. Explore positive & negative forces for/against Achieving that goal
  3. Identify key forces & turn them into your objectives with indicators giving you your Theory of Change (ToC).
  4. Identify the short- & medium-term outcomes that these objectives should achieve
  5. Spell out key assumptions/ risks underpinning ToC
  6. Use 1-2-3 method to check if achieving goal and to support/ challenge your ToC

Figure 2: Theory of Change Example (1-2-3 Method)

It is worth recalling that the ToC can take any number different types of format: a picture containing boxes, circles, other shapes, linked together with arrows going in many different directions.

Others might take the form of a triangle or spiral, again with multiple causal pathways identified.

Here the focus is on providing an introduction to M&E. As such, while it has already been noted that the ToC and logframe are different, it is thought helpful to retain elements of the structure of the logframe when setting out your theory of change.

The above template clearly is very similar to the logical framework but there are important differences:

  • First, the ToC should have been agreed through a participatory process; this is not always the case with the log frame.
  • Second, there is a need to bring out your theory of change is (what will lead to your desired long-term outcome) as a guiding thread throughout your approach. Equally, the framework draws attention to the context that led to the long-term desired outcome being defined.
  • Third, there is a focus on assumptions and risks inherent in between the stages of the template: what assumptions have to be met/ risks have to be mitigated for an output to lead to a short-term outcome and for that short-term outcome to lead to a medium-term outcome. This is important as it helps you nuance your findings and construct a narrative explaining why your project was not a total failure or a complete success. Your assumptions were right at one stage but at a subsequent stage the risks came to the fore and blocked progress.
  • Finally, this model is simpler than the log frame in one other sense: rather than detailing the various indicators and means of verification, it can allow you to simply highlight the methods (specifically the 1-2-3 Method) you plan to use at each stage.

Figure 3: A Possible ToC Template

For the above blank Theory of Change template which you can fill in yourself, please click the download button below.

Where to next?

Click here to return to the top of the page and here to return to Step 1 (Theory-Based Evaluation, Full 1-2-3 Method) .