Theory of Change: A Collaborative Tool?
We all have a whole boatload of different theories of change: change happens when the heart is deeply moved (people feel the injustice of racism) or when law demands it (Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964), change happens better when you are seduced into it than when you are threatened into it, or vice versa, there are views that say it takes a hero (Martin Luther King) or that heroes are irrelevant (the tides of history theory) — dozens of opinions and points of view.
And then there is The Theory of Change.
Let’s not get into the argument as to how change happens unless we have to — this event is about The Theory of Change — and I learned about it via the wonderful Beth Kanter
) and she pointed me to this background info
The Theory of Change is a methodology, designed to create the kind of change social entrepreneurs are interested in. It involves:
• Identifying long-term goals and the assumptions behind them
• Backwards mapping and connecting the preconditions or requirements necessary to achieve that goal.
• Identifying the interventions that your initiative will perform to create your desired change.
• Developing indicators to measure your outcomes to assess the performance of your initiative.
• Writing a narrative to explain the logic of your initiative.
You might say the Theory of Change approach is a version of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique
) adapted for social enterprises. If you know what you want to achieve –if you can clearly imagine and describe your wished-for end state, The Theory of Change will allow you to work your way backwards
, seeing at each stage what needs to be accomplished so the next step can be begun, until you know, right at the beginning, what needs to be set in motion and when, if your ultimate goal is to be achieved.
Heady stuff. And my guess is that it works best as an underlying structure with flexibility along the way
–like a 12-bar blues theme or that of a passacaglia
in classical music, a basic structure on which endless variations can be woven– as a basis for improvisation, and a means of clarifying goals, grounding expectations and verifying results.
But The Theory of Change also offers us, as the community of social entrepreneurs, something more — a methodology we can use collaboratively, not driven by any one entrepreneur’s or project’s particular point of view, so similar projects can align their individual theories of change with other players working in the same issue, and thus avoid needless duplication of effort and ensure greater overall success.
Likewise, individual projects working with their stakeholders using The Theory of Social Change may find it leads to fresher insights and greater ease of collaboration.
Think of it, in other words, both as an in-house and an in-sector tool.
• What is your experience?
• Is this an academic exercise, or real development research?
• Have you stumbled onto a similar system by trial and error?
• Does a system like this constrain you?
• Liberate you?
• Maybe a little of both?
• Do you have anything to add or subtract from TToC?
• Which step do you find the simplest?
• Which step was the hardest?
• What results did you get?
• Would your results have been different without TToC?
• Might your results have been better if you had known about it?
• How far do you want to go? How far should you go?
Please join Charles "Hipbone" Cameron as we discuss how to get the change we are looking for. And if your theory is different — what is your Theory of Social Change?