What is a theory of change?
A theory of change captures some crucial details about why your intervention (often referred to as a programme) or service is necessary and what it aims to achieve. It can come in many forms, including a diagram or a written narrative.
For evaluation purposes, it should be the first step you work through, and your evaluation should then test and refine your theory of change.
The core elements of a theory of change: why, who, how and what
Why is a theory of change important?
There are five reasons why a theory of change is an important part of your evaluation planning.
- A theory of change lays the foundation for evaluation, which will test whether your programme or service has achieved what was intended.
- It enables you to recognise and start to address any uncertainties or risks in your plans for the programme or service.
- It enables you to ensure everyone involved is on the same page, which can help to improve how your programme or service is delivered.
- It enables you to communicate the rationale for your approach, both within your organisation and more widely.
- It is a useful tool to help refine and clarify existing programmes and services.
What are the key principles of a theory of change?
Below are the fundamental principles you will need to think about when developing a theory of change:
- The theory of change should include information on why a programme or service is needed for children’s development and why it will add value; what the programme or service is, how it works, and who it is for; and what are the intended outcomes.
- Intended outcomes should be both short-term and long-term, and focused on children’s development. These should be both plausible and measurable.
- A theory of change should be based on scientific evidence. This will help to challenge any assumptions you have made about why or how a programme or service works to improve outcomes.
- While the core elements of a theory of change remain the same for both programmes and systems, extra steps will be required for a system-level theory of change, including potentially undertaking a needs assessment and system mapping before you can start developing a theory of change.