If you’ve ever been involved in a change initiative, chances are, somewhere along the line, you have come across a kind of ‘magical thinking’ whereby those proposing the changes miss out many of the details of the necessary steps to get from the ‘here and now’, to the proposed change. Inherent is this kind of approach, are unstated assumptions, for example, that some action will ‘just work’, and a lack of a ‘chain of causality’ – the steps which logically follow on, one from another, until the goal is achieved.
Theory of Change (TOC) was developed as a tool to address these missing elements in the design of change, and provide a framework to document, clearly, the path from the current situation to the desired goals.
As a visible reference of the design of the change, TOC can fulfil a variety of functions.
- It provides a visible map to the change initiative, including milestones.
- It creates a testable hypothesis for how the change will happen.
- It provides a design for evaluation at the same time as it maps the steps to the change.
- It communicates clearly the complexity of the process, and provides a document to which all stakeholders can give agreement.
The first step in creating a TOC is to work backwards from the desired endpoint and map outcomes that will logically lead to that goal, also drawing in the connections between these. Once that set of outcomes are decided, move backwards again mapping the outcomes that logically lead to those, and so on, until you have reached the current state. Outcomes will be added, deleted and amended many times, potentially, in this mapping process, and the discussions that stakeholders have while mapping are an extremely valuable part of the TOC process.
The next step is Developing Indicators. This is where the existing outcomes are ‘fleshed out’ with details which will be measurable. Each indicator seeks to answer the questions; Who will change? What proportion do we require to achieve for this to be a success? What is the measurement of success? When does this have to happen by?
The next step is to identify any assumptions that are inherent in the steps already covered. For example, if one of the identified outcomes is ‘Course graduates are ready to step into leadership roles’, it is possible that there is an assumption that leadership roles exist to be ‘stepped into’.
In a preceding step, outcomes…
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