What is Theory of Change?
Theory of Change (TOC) is a method for planning, participation, and evaluation used to promote social change in organizations.
Created at the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change in the 1990s and popularized by Carol Weiss, the term TOC outlines a series of desired and actual outcomes and linked rationales—all of which flow in chronological order.
The process of TOC lies in two key points:
- First, it differentiates between actual and desired outcomes.
- Second, because it requires all stakeholders to model the desired outcomes before acting to follow through to achieve it.
Steps for the Process of Theory of Change
- Identify long-term goals, who are the stakeholders, and how they will be impacted.
- In mini-steps, map and connect backwards the requirements to achieve the goals, and explain why these conditions are necessary and sufficient to measure success.
- Identify the basic assumptions that define the context of the organisation as well as the risks from those assumptions.
- Identify all the interventions which the initiative will carry out to create the desired change.
- Develop indicators to adequately measure the outcomes that track performance of the initiative.
- Last but not least, write a narrative to explain the logic of your initiative or draw a flowchart to make it visually clear.
What are the Theory of Change Elements?
Final goal: The broader social change a project or organisation is trying to achieve.
Intermediate outcomes: The short-term changes, benefits, learning or other effects that result from what a project or organisation does. These short-term steps will contribute to a final goal and may include changes in users’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviour. A useful way to think about intermediate outcomes is the outcomes achieved after the project—what service users take away from it.
Activities: The things that an organisation or project does or the way it chooses to deliver a project day-to-day. Activities are within an organisation or project’s control.
Inputs: The resources that go into the project that a team or organisation needs to be able to carry out its activities.
Outputs: Products, services or facilities that result from an organisation or project’s activities. These are often expressed quantitatively; for example, number of users, how many sessions they receive and the amount of contact they had with a project.
Enablers: Conditions or factors that need to be present or absent to allow an organisation or project’s work to succeed.
The presence or absence of enablers can help or hinder a project.
There are two kinds of enablers:
Internal enablers need to exist inside an organisation for a theory of change to work, and are mostly within an organisation or project’s control. Internal enablers describe the mechanisms by which an organisation delivers its work (such as the quality of services, relationships and the values and attitudes of staff).
External enablers need to exist in the external environment for a theory of change to work, and are often beyond an organisation or project’s immediate control. External enablers describe the context in which an organisation works (such as social, cultural, economic and political factors, laws, regulations, and working with other organisations).
Evidence: Information that you already have or plan to collect that is relevant to supporting or testing a theory of change.
Assumptions: The underlying beliefs about how a project will work, the people involved and the context. These are sometimes implicit in a logic model or theory of change, but it can be useful to state them explicitly
Benefits of a Theory of Change
- Help teams work together to achieve a shared understanding of a project and its aims. The process of agreeing a theory of change teases out different views and assumptions about what an organisation is aiming for and how staff should work together. Using a theory of change to co-develop strategy fosters consensus and can motivate staff, helping them to feel involved and showing them how their work contributes to longterm goals
- Make projects more effective. A theory of change is an agreed statement of what your organisation or project is trying to achieve. It can help you to identify where activities are not contributing to your goals and take action, and understand what information you will need to monitor performance.
- Help identify and open up ‘black boxes’ in thinking. A range of assumptions may underlie the design of your project or approach. The theory of change process should reveal these hidden assumptions, some of which you may then discover are unfounded, out-of-date or inconsistent with the evidence.
- Help determine what needs to be measured (and what does not) so you can plan your evaluation activities. Some evaluations are misconceived and lack strategy. A theory of change provides a framework for the evidence you should collect, which will give you greater confidence in your approach.
- Encourage teams to engage with the existing evidence base. The best theories of change are justified by up-to-date knowledge of what works in a particular field. This could be drawn from your own organisational data and/or research published by others, such as academics and government departments.
- Act as the basis for claims about attribution. If, by collecting good quality evidence to test your theory, you can show you have achieved targets and desired changes at each stage, then you have a stronger case for saying that your project has made a difference.
- Quickly communicate a project’s aims. A theory of change diagram is a neat way to summarise your work and communicate it to stakeholders, including funders and commissioners. They may also feel more confident in supporting your organisation if they know you have been through a theory of change process.
- Bring the process of change to the forefront. All change occurs incrementally through intermediate outcomes (steps which lead towards your final goal), such as improvements in service users’ skills or changing public attitudes to disability using a campaign. A theory of change encourages you to focus on these outcomes and articulate them properly.
- Help with partnership working. Developing a theory of change in collaboration with other organisations can clarify roles and responsibilities, and establish consistency around outcomes. This could be especially useful for partnership working between statutory and voluntary sector organisations. A theory of change can also help train new staff or volunteers and replicate services, as it shows what a service aims to achieve and how
Our Theory of Change
Tracking Our Change
We welcome requests for understanding our Impacts – we track them on a regular basis!
- How many people google search certain topics – we have this laid out in our website data drills
- How many jobs are changing to be named Safety Governance
- How many people join the Safety Governance Foundation
- Social Media Tracking on our media
- How the Recruitment Processes alter to include Safety Governance in Board Appointments
- How the Board Review Processes alter to include Safety Governance in Board Assessment for Performance
- How meaningful are the inputs of Safety Discussions at Board Tables
- How Safety Governance is implemented into other Risk Management & Matrixes for Board & Organisational Pure Risk Practices
- How Corporate Governance Frameworks alter to include Safety Governance processes
- How shareholders react to Safety Incidents and Issues – Safe Products, Safe Services and Safety to anyone impacted or included in our work!
- How Fatalities are reduced at work.
Proud Supporter of the Not for Profit the Safety Governance Foundation
Our CEO is so passionate about making this change – that we were the key instigator for establishing the Safety Governance Foundation.
In 2022&2023FY the Safety Governance Institute donated over $250,000 in Establishment Costs, Wages, Superannuation, Advisory Services and Supporting Administration and Management Services.
We like to encourage other organisations to also get involved and we know that any and all kinds of efforts in both money and time are steps forward to do deep wide transformational change.
We seek to work and partner with like minded organisations who also wish to make these kinds of change and welcome any and all conversations from those who would like to be involved.