What impact goals does your organisation have, and how can you be sure your project or activities will achieve those goals? What problem are you aiming to address? And how do you make sure your activities are the best solution to that problem? This is where a Theory of Change comes in.
A Theory of Change (ToC) is essentially a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what an organization does (its activities) and how this leads to the desired goals being achieved. Formulating a coherent Theory of Change will help you with action-oriented monitoring and evaluation, but also has great value as a strategy tool, as well as to demonstrate your story and value proposition to (potential) funders and other stakeholders.
A theory of change defines an organizations’ activities, output, and outcome, the results, as well as the prerequisites for achieving these results. It does so by drawing coherent, logical connections between output (of your activities) and outcomes (your impact). These connections are put together in a cohesive logic (by establishing an effect chain or a transition path), along with a critical assessment on whether they are plausible and realistic.
By establishing a coherent Theory of Change for your organisation you will be able to set your first steps in the iterative process that is impact maximization. It allows you to define your desired impact, and the stepping stones necessary to achieve this, and forms the basis for monitoring whether you achieve your desired impact. Whether you want to gain management information, show accountability, or gain funding for you impact investments; a Theory of Change is a great first step in improving the world.