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What is the critique on ToC?
by Centre for Development Innovation
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In response to the growing interest in and demand for ToCs, critique is also emerging. A list of the most commonly heard critiques is presented below.

1. Too many often vague definitions

Even defining it, does not give much clarity about what it is and is not. There are so many definitions – and which is the right one? When do we know when it is good quality or not?

2. Nothing new

Some critique refers to the fact that ToC thinking already started in ‘90ties and do not see much novelty. Isn’t it just Logframe done well, or structural analysis? It is just as rigid and just as superficial or not as other forms of planning.

3. Too theoretical

Some practitioners are taken aback by the term “theory” and do not see the practical use. Other concepts like “change pathway” or “outcome pathway” seem to resonate better.

4. Too complicated

Large elaborate ToC examples with many details can be discouraging for newcomers – and can look like rigid plans. Those who have not been involved in articulating a ToC can feel disconnected, feeding imbalances in understandings within the larger group and partial views.

5. Obligatory superficiality

Making ToC formulation obligatory and issuing specific formats can turn what is meant to be a critical questioning of one’s beliefs of how the world works – and one’s place in it – into a bureaucratic exercise. Enforcement can take energy away from the important process of making clear how you think social transformation is triggered and the political choices behind this understanding.

6. A distraction from reflection and learning

Going through the process of developing a ToC that is offered as a ‘story’ to others can be a distraction from more embedded learning and reflection on assumptions, values and strategic choices. When done well, a ToC becomes part of such a learning and reflection process.


  • G. Albert Ruesga (2011) Philanthropy’s Albatross: Debunking Theories of Change, Greater New Orleans Foundation.