10 Great Resources for Creating a Theory of Change

What is a Theory of Change? According to ActKnowledge, a Theory of Change defines all the building blocks required to bring about a long-term goal. ‘Like any good planning and evaluation method for social change, it requires participants to be clear on long-term goals, identify measurable indicators of success, and formulate actions to achieve goals.’

Many people use it interchangeably with the term “logic model” but it differs from logic models  because it requires stakeholders to articulate underlying assumptions which can be tested and measured, and because shows a causal pathway from here to there by specifying what is needed for goals to be achieved.

According to Jim Connell and Adema Klem you should ask yourself whether your Theory of Change is:

  1. Plausible (stakeholders believe the logic of the model is correct: if we do these things, we will get the results we want and expect);
  2. Doable (human, political and economic resources are seen as sufficient to implement the action strategies in the theory);
  3. Testable (stakeholders believe there are credible ways to discover whether the results are as predicted);
  4. Meaningful (stakeholders see the outcomes as important and the magnitude of change in these outcomes being pursued as worth the effort).

My consulting firm has been helping foundations to develop theories of change for entire organizations, program areas, and initiatives. We’ve reviewed the literature about Theories of Change and wanted to share our top 10 resources with you, to help you with your social change planning:

For general information about what a Theory of Change is and some examples:

  1. Theory of Change As A Tool For Strategic Planning introduces the use of the Theory of Change approach for planning community-based initiatives using examples from the The Wallace Foundation Parents and Communities for Kids (PACK) initiative.
  2. Theory of Change.org is a collaborative project of the Aspen Institute and ActKnowledge, offering a wide array of resources, tools, tips, and examples of Theory of Change.
  3. ActKnowledge is currently piloting Theory of Change Online (TOCO), a free, web-based application to create Theories of Change and to learn more about the methodology.
  4. They’ve also provided a guided example of how one Theory of Change was developed.
  5. You Can Get There From Here: Using a Theory of Change Approach to Plan Urban Education Reform” by James Connell and Adema Klem gives an overview and an example in the field of education.

For useful manuals, facilitators’ guides, and tools to create a Theory of Change:

  1. The International Network on Strategic Philanthropy has a Theory of Change Tool Manual.
  2. Theory of Change: A Practical Tool for Action, Results and Learning” was created under the guidance of Tom Kelly (@tomkaecf) at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  3. The Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change created “The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change,” which is a practical guide for facilitators, including what to do before and during meetings with stakeholders, suggested participants, and recommended materials.

And to better understand the difference between a Theory of Change and a Logic Model check out:

  1. GrantCraft created “Mapping Change: Using a Theory of Change Approach to Guide Planning.” (BTW, GrantCraft has produced terrific guides on all aspects of grantmaking, so you should definitely check them out)
  2. Theories of Change and Logic Models: Telling Them Apart” is a helpful PowerPoint presentation.

If you recommend other resources, or have examples of nonprofit or foundation Theories of Change that you would like to share, please leave a comment!

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.