Developing a ToC: The Design Steps
Developing your Theory of Change (ToC) entails an iterative process consisting of several steps. Here we provide an overview of these steps, while elsewhere within this application we provide more detailed help for each individual step.
The process of developing your ToC is a co-creation. This is done together with other “problem owners”, i.e. other stakeholders who have a stake in your vision of success. After all, no one has all the necessary resources or wisdom to develop and achieve their ToC all by themselves. Change requires collaboration with many actors. Likewise, many stakeholders hold knowledge and resources you stand to benefit from.
If you’re still at the start of the development of your ToC, you may choose to organise a meeting with a few individuals you trust to develop a first draft of your ToC. Subsequently you may want to organise a workshop together with a wide spectre of stakeholders to kick-start the development of your ToC.
The Situation Analysis describes the context in which you operate. It identifies the nature and extent of the opportunities you may be able to build upon, as well as the problems to be addressed by your organisation. It also describes the forces at play, using for example stakeholder analysis and power analysis.
Vision of Success
Grounded in the situation analysis is your Vision of Success. This describes the sustainable future you wish to bring about. It describes a plausible picture of people behaving and experiencing life differently in a sustainable manner. It depicts a plausible picture that your organisation, working alongside others can meaningfully influence.
Purpose, Scope and Development Process
The Scope of your ToC concerns the boundaries of the social system that you wish to change. Using ecosystem and stakeholder analysis you determine which stakeholders are to be considered and included in your ToC. The Purpose refers to the motivation behind the development of the ToC, while the Development process elaborates on the process followed to develop the ToC.
The previous steps above together define the setting of your ToC. Next, you start its visualisation.
You start the visualisation process by summarizing your vision of success in one or more Outcomes and Impact that represent your vision of success. These are the first building blocks of your ToC visualization. They are the embodiment of the ultimate societal purpose of your organisation.
A question can then be asked what needs to happen to make your vision of success a reality? What needs to change to realize the impacts and outcomes that represent your vision? In other words, start to identify all the prior changes that must take place if the vision of success is to be realized – NOT just what the organisation can do on its own (as long as these organisations are inside the scope you have set for yourself). These changes or preconditions of success will be formulated as Outcomes and Impact.
Also important is to identify the Context Elements that could affect whether the outcomes are achieved. These are thus ‘influencers’, which can affect positively or negatively, the realization of your vision of success. By including context elements in your visualization, you further embed your ToC in the local context within which you operate.
Specify the interdependencies or relationships between ToC elements. Thus, organize them into Pathways leading to your vision of success.
This includes pathways within and between the change process and the Theory of Action. For the change process, it refers to how outcomes and impact work together to produce change. The outcomes and impact together form chains that realize an ultimate outcome/impact as part of your vision of success. For example, certain outcomes will occur before others in a causal chain and may be preconditions before another outcome can occur or happen.
For the Theory of Action, pathways are similar to pathways within the change process, but refer to how activities, outputs and inputs work together to create one or more outcomes.
Theory of Action
The Theory of Action involves how you, as well as other actors within your scope, seek to activate the change processes and steer it in the desired direction. It describes what you do: your strategies to intervene and change the existing situation. You can do this by specifying how Activities, Outputs and Inputs produce the change. For example, ask:
- What activities produce the outcomes and their needed features?
- How do we address contextual influences?
- How do we ensure the appropriate inputs are available?
Strategy Narratives, Including Assumptions
During this step you have a choice of six Themes which you can apply on your ToC’s elements and relationships. These themes are: Progress (Key Performance Indicators), Validation & assumptions, Trade-offs, Innovations, Needs, and Opportunities & threats. This allows you to discuss the issues of strategic importance in relation to your organisation’s capacity to create societal value and therefore, the realization of your vision of success.
Through these themes, users of the ToC will broaden their understanding of the uniqueness of your organisation, ways to offer help, progress made and choices inherent in your ToC. The aim is for knowledge sharing and learning: pages therefore have a wiki-like form that you can open up for stakeholder input and feedback. These pages are meant to only include consensus and objective facts, and to integrate information; while the discussion page allows for more debate.
One of the most important aspects of a ToC is to make the Assumptions underneath your rationale explicit so that you can question and monitor them. It is specifically by using the theme for Validation & assumptions that your assumptions can be captured.
Under the Change Story, you summarize the ToC visualisation you have developed by building upon storytelling technique. The change story helps to facilitate understanding of the visualization. This, together with the first three steps (Situation analysis, Vision of success, Purpose and Scope), make up the narrative.
Expert Lenses present opportunities to look at your ToC from specific perspectives. This enables you to continue to improve your Theory of Change.
As Learning Continuous
You’ll go back and forth between the steps, while adding new elements and relationships as well as eliminating non-essential ones. Eventually you are meant to arrive at a relatively simple but still complete image that visualises the rationale how change happens; and why certain activities will make your vision of success a reality. This calls for clarity and specificity.
Over time new insights and developments will also call for change of your ToC. Again, you will reach out to stakeholders and regularly update your ToC based on these new insights, new results and new developments.
Making Your ToC Easier To Read
Changeroo offers a grouping functionality which you can use to organise your ToC and make it easier to read. The rationale behind this is that often you will find groups of ToC elements working together. For example, a group of inputs is required to work together to produce an activity.
Allowing for multiple levels within a ToC offers a way to break down a more complex picture into something more understandable and practical. This is called a Nested ToC. Changeroo allows for nested ToCs, meaning a “sub-ToC” is found within an element of a higher-level ToC that essentially summarizes the sub-ToC. Nested ToCs might be developed around the following (based on Mayne & JohnsonJ. Mayne & N. Johnson (2015) Using theories of change in the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, Evaluation, 21(4). Available here.):
- Types of strategies being used: Where the overall ToC for example includes pathways for engagement and capacity development strategies, and both have more specific pathways nested in them with the details on the different engagement and capacity development strategies employed.
- Target groups: Where an overall pathway of change has more specific pathways nested in it for different beneficiary groups.
- Temporal dimensions: Where different nested ToCs focus on different stages of the process thus facilitating prioritization and sequencing of work.
- Non-core interventions (based on MayneJ. Mayne (2015) Useful Theory of Change Models, Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 30(2).): The realization of your vision of success likely also depends on interventions by other actors. These are supporting activities. Where a higher-level ToC may show only the core intervention as implemented by your organisation, you could nest ToCs to show the supporting activities by other actors, instead of putting it all in one ToC.
Different Versions for Different Purposes
In addition to a detailed ToC you could also have a second version of your ToC with a simplified overview of your ToC. For instance, a simplified ToC for external communication purposes.
Drop ToC Elements and Include Them as Assumptions
Some elements may be dropped or instead be incorporated in your ToC as an assumption.