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Creating a planning triangle

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Use this page to learn how to create your own evaluation planning triangle.

Once you’ve looked at our guidance on the different planning tools you can use, this guidance can help create a planning triangle.

The evaluation planning triangle is a basic form of theory of change. A simple tool which helps you reflect on, and make sense of the connections between the work you deliver and the difference it makes.

You can create a triangle to help:

  • plan a new project
  • make the purpose of an existing project clear
  • communicate the value of your work to funders and other audiences.

The triangle’s simple format makes it best suited for single projects or areas of work. For more complex work, a theory of change could be more suitable.

Find out more about in our guidance on theory of change.

Getting your triangle template ready

First, draw a triangle separated into three sections. You could do this electronically or on a large sheet of paper.

This diagram shows what information will go in each section.

A diagram of an evaluation planning triangle

Write your overall impact statement

The top of the triangle will include your overall impact. This is the ‘big long-term or broad change that your organisation wants to be a part of.

Starting with your overall impact helps you focus on the change you want to create, rather than on the work you deliver.

Your overall impact is likely to be related to your organisation’s mission. Check if it needs updating, or is clear enough to be understood outside your organisation.

Your overall impact should do the following:

  • Identify your target group – who you want to create change for in the longer term. This might be different to the group you work with. For example, if you support parents to improve parenting skills, the target group for your impact statement will be their children.
  • Say where your target group is based – do you want to see a change in a city or region, across the country, or internationally?
  • Identify the change you want to see happen for your target group. Think about a long-term problem or issue that your target group faces – then turn this negative statement into a positive statement of change (your overall impact).

Your overall impact statement should not do the following:

  • Describe the work you’re doing. Make sure you’re describing changes by using words like ‘increase’, ‘improve’, ‘more’, ‘better’, or ‘reduce’. You can use ‘maintain’ or ‘prevent’ if a situation would get worse without your organisation getting involved.
  • Use woolly language – such as ‘empower’ or ‘access’. Instead, think about what you’re empowering people to do, or why their ability to access something is important. For example, a group might be working with young people on a local estate to increase access to positive activities, because without anything positive to do young people could become involved in antisocial behaviour. Instead of ‘increase local young people’s access to positive activities’, their overall impact would be better written as ‘reduce antisocial behaviour on the local estate’.

Write your outcomes

Your outcomes are short to medium-term changes you hope to bring about as a result of your work. They have to be achieved to support progress towards your impact statements.

To help define your outcomes, it can be helpful to think about the barriers that stand in the way of your impact being achieved.

For example, if your overall impact is to increase sustainable living among local communities in Devon:

Your outcomes should:

  • express changes, using verbs such as ‘increase’, ‘improve’ or ‘reduce’
  • describe who experiences the change
  • be expressed clearly and concisely – could someone who doesn’t work for your organisation understand them?

Your outcomes should not:

  • describe the work you will deliver
  • be a big list – include between three and five outcomes as a rough guide.

Set out your activities

Activities are things that you’ll do to achieve your outcomes.

For example, if your outcome was ‘improve the skills and work experience of ex-offenders’, a related activity might be ‘one-to-one support around writing CVs and job searches’.

You can also include products. For example, a publication, research and campaigns here.

  • Your activities should link to at least one of your outcomes – it can be useful to draw lines on your triangle to show which activities link to which outcomes. You may have one or more activities supporting each outcome.
  • Aim for a maximum of six activities to keep your triangle easy to read and understand. You can describe broad areas of work rather than outlining all the specific things you do.
  • Writing your activities down may lead you to think about internal processes that need to be in place so you can deliver your work (for example, fundraising, staff training, recruitment or marketing).
  • The triangle is focused on outward-facing work that you provide in order to achieve your outcomes, so it doesn’t include these internal processes. Read more about evaluating processes in our guide to developing a monitoring and evaluation framework.

Check your triangles' story

Your triangle should present a clear story of how your organisation makes a difference in the short to medium term, and the longer term.

Check that it meets the following points:

  • Logical: There should be logical links between the three sections of your triangle. Consider whether someone outside your organisation would be able to follow the story of how your work will create change.
  • Realistic and achievable: To the best of your knowledge (from your research or previous experience), will achieving your outcomes contribute to your impact statement? Will delivering your activities achieve your outcomes? If you have an activity that doesn’t link to an outcome, perhaps it’s not strictly necessary or you’re missing an outcome? If you have an outcome that doesn’t have any activities linked to it, are there other types of work you need to consider delivering?
  • Clear: Your completed triangle should be useful for describing the value of your work both internally and to the outside world. Make sure that it’s free from jargon and acronyms.

Review your triangle with others

Once you have created your triangle, review it to see where it could be improved.

Try to do this with others to get different perspectives and to strengthen the story it tells. You could involve colleagues, managers, trustees, beneficiaries or partners.

Check that the story the triangle tells is recognisable based on their experiences.

Using your triangle

Now you’ve created your triangle, don’t forget to use it. A triangle can help you to:

  • communicate simply about your work and the change it makes
  • plan your project or feed into your organisation’s strategy.

If you want to go on to evaluate your work, you can use your triangle to help you develop a monitoring and evaluation framework.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 September 2023

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