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A Theory of Change is a specific and measurable description of a social change that forms the basis for planning, ongoing decision-making and evaluation.
Theory of change encourages you to reflect on your goals and plans (your strategy), to discuss them with others and to make sure they’re clearly understood.
A theory of change is an interpretation of what we believe – but based on evidence and experience – expressing the likely course of change.
It can be represented in a change map (a visual representation of the change you want to see and how you expect it to come about), as a narrative (a spoken or written account of connected events; a story), or both.
There is no single definition or methodology for theory of change, it is both a thinking process and a product so the process of developing a strategy is as useful as the strategy itself.
A theory of change can be developed at the beginning of a piece of work to help with planning or to describe an existing piece of work. It can be created at organisational level (describing your strategy and plans), programme or project level.
There are a number of ways you can use theory of change:
Before you start be clear about:
Your process will depend on:
If you are using your theory of change to plan new work you will need to involve key decision-makers in your organisation. You may also want to include other groups, such as your wider staff group and the people and communities you work with.
Read more about this in our guidance on involving people in developing your strategy.
The steps to build a theory of change:
Using a consultant also means that all staff can participate in Theory of Change development workshops (rather than facilitating them).
A consultant can also bring a helpful external perspective, although they may need briefing and support to understand your organisation’s work.
Last reviewed: 04 July 2022Help us improve this content
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