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Theory of Change

The theory of change is a tool to help you describe the need you are trying to address, the changes you want to make (your outcomes), and what you plan to do (your activities).

Common language

Having a common language is important when developing a theory of change. It is worth noting that some of the definitions are contested, and it is not essential that you adopt them precisely.

The most important thing is that you understand what it means in this guide and that when you are developing a theory of change for your organization or project, everyone shares a common understanding.

Theory of Change model

Final goal: The broader social change a project or organization is trying to achieve.

Intermediate outcomes: The short-term changes, benefits, learning or other effects that result from what a project or organization 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 organization or project does or the way it chooses to deliver a project day-to-day. Activities are within an organization or project’s control.

Inputs: The resources that go into the project that a team or organization needs to be able to carry out its activities.

Outputs: Products, services or facilities that result from an organization 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 organization 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 organization for a theory of change to work, and are mostly within an organization or project’s control. Internal enablers describe the mechanisms by which an organization 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 organization or project’s immediate control. External enablers describe the context in which an organization works (such as social, cultural, economic and political factors, laws, regulations, and working with other organizations).

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.

Improving services

Once you have developed a theory of change, described how it is supported by existing evidence, and collected your own evidence, you can determine whether you have achieved the outcomes you intended. You will also be in a position to learn from your results and improve your services.

In a survey organizations stated that the greatest benefit of measuring their impact was improved services. To make improvements, you will need to critically reflect on the data you have collected and analyzed.

Two key questions to ask yourself are:

– What do your results say you are doing well
– What do your results say about what you need to improve?

To think about practical ways to improve your work, consider:

  • Are you delivering the right services?
  • Are you targeting your services at the right people?
  • Are there any gaps in your services?
  • Are there any unintended consequences?
  • Are some of your services more effective than others?
  • Would it make sense to allocate resources differently?


Basic assumptions that are based upon French and Bell in an Organizational Development (OD) trajectory

  1. Most individuals have drives towards personal growth and development. However, the work habits are a response to work environment rather than personality traits. Accordingly, efforts to change work habits should be directed towards changing how the person is treated rather than towards attempting to change the person.
  2. Highest productivity can be achieved when the individual goals are integrated with organizational goals. Also with such integration, the quality of the product is highly improved.
  3. Cooperation is more effective than competition. Conflict and competition tend to erode trust, prohibit collaboration and eventually limit the effectiveness of the organization. In healthy organizations, “efforts are made at all levels to treat conflict as a problem subject to problem solving methods.
  4. The suppression of feelings adversely affects problem solving, personal growth and satisfaction with one’s work. Accordingly, free expression of feelings is an important ingredient for commitment to work.
  5. The growth of individual members is facilitated by relationships, which are open, supportive and trusting. Accordingly, the level of interpersonal trust, support and cooperation should be as high as possible.
  6. The difference between commitment and agreement must be fully understood. Agreeing to do something is totally different from being committed to do something. Sense of commitment makes it easy to accept change and the implementation of change for the purpose of organi­zational development is even easier when such a commitment is based upon participation in the process.
  7. Organizational Development programmes, if they are to succeed, must be reinforced by the organization’s total human resources system.