Building a Theory of Change

At its most basic, the Theory of Change (ToC) can be summed up as follows:

A very useful illustration of the value of the ToC, albeit focused on a field other than development (getting to work late) has been created by Kasia Kedzia (Chemonics blog) and is summarised below. It underscores the importance of identifying the root causes of a problem and not just looking at the most obvious immediate causes.

  • So, imagine you are chronically late to work. If your goal is to get to work on time, you may have identified multiple reasons. If you only consider one and don’t identify root causes, you will continue to be late.
  • One reason may be traffic jams but if this is the only answer given then the solution might be speeding or even running red lights.
  • A more productive solution will be generated if you consider other more fundamental (root cause) reasons such as leaving your house late or not getting to bed on time.

Similarly, in the international development work we do, if our solutions don’t match the root causes of the problems, our work will fail to make a difference and could even have negative consequences. Don’t just stop when you think you have found the cause of a problem. Probe deeper and see if you can find other, perhaps more fundamental causes.

Different Approaches to the ToC

When you drill down into the ToC, as applied to development projects, you can see that there are many different approaches. Some of these will be referenced or discussed briefly here before the focus turns to our own recommended 1-2-3 Method. These approaches include:

  1. Templates developed by the Open University and Nesta
  2. The Results Chain Approach
  3. The Force Field Method
  4. Our 1-2-3 approach to the ToC

Where to next?

Click here to return to the top of the page, here to return to Theory-Based evaluation (Step 1, Full 1-2-3 Method) and here to return to Theory of Change (Traditional Tools)