Creating a Theory of Change

On 12 June, colleagues from corporate teams as well as representatives of some service areas met with NEF Consulting to talk about Theory of Change.

A Theory of Change “defines the building blocks required to bring about a given long-term goal”, through a “map or pathway illustrating the change process”. It maps out how and why a given intervention is going to make a change in a visual format. It includes the outcomes that will be achieved, the activities that will produce them and the external enablers and preventers that may also be acting and can be used strategically, as an engagement tool and/or for evaluation. Importantly, a Theory of Change also helps to distinguish between outputs (e.g. the number of people who have been trained) and outcomes (e.g. staff feel confident when doing their job).

One of the important lessons from our conversation was that a Theory of Change is not a static document but a dynamic one which should be revisited and adapted over time. It’s also best produced collaboratively. By involving lots of people in the process, particularly the users directly affected by our interventions, we can ensure that more viewpoints are included, giving a more holistic representation.

However, equally important is setting some boundaries to avoid trying to encompass too much a single document. A “line of accountability” shows a point at which your organisation is not responsible for the achievement of longer-term defined outcomes, for example because you alone cannot achieve them.

Similarly, there’s a focus on including only what is material to the issue at hand – that is, what’s relevant and significant to the particular aim you’re focusing on. You may start out with many outcomes you expect to achieve over the short, medium and long term, but later slim these down to give more specific focus and avoid spending time on understanding and monitoring on things which aren’t so important.

We’ll be using Theory of Change to create the delivery plans that sit behind our Corporate Plan. Over the coming months, the Strategy, Performance & Insight team will be working with colleagues to map out the outcomes that will deliver our corporate priorities and the activities that will produce them, as well as taking note of the key stakeholders who will be affected.

Our thanks to Jake from NEF Consulting for an interesting and thought-provoking session. You can find out more about their work here.