Evaluation Foundations: Theory of Change

Evaluation Foundations: Theory of Change

There are several foundations needed for strong organizational and program evaluation. One of the most critical is having a theory of change. This post will briefly describe a theory of change and provide 3 steps to crafting a strong theory of change statement. 

What is a Theory of Change Statement?

A theory of change statement is a 1-2 sentence description of how your organization or program tries to make a change in the world. It is similar to a mission statement, but different in that it includes three components*:

  1. WHAT change you are trying to make (intended results)

  2. HOW you are trying to make that change (methods)

  3. FOR WHOM you are trying to make that change (target populations)

A good mission statement will leave room for the organization to grow and change, including serving different target populations or using different methods to make the change. A good theory of change statement will be specific about the what, how, and for whom. Additionally, while the mission statement is for the organization overall, a theory of change can be developed for different programs if needed. 

*Note: A theory of change may include more information such as needs assessment data, specific outcomes for intended results, etc, and be 2+ pages. However, a theory of change statement is more succinct and used as a building block to create a longer document or other evaluation foundations.

Why is a Theory of Change important?

  • Evaluation- A theory of change is used as a foundation and guiding statement for your program or organizational evaluation. It shows the overall intended results that you should work towards measuring. It may take several years to build towards the evaluating the intended results in your theory of change, but that's okay. The theory of change shows what you are trying to change, and what you eventually will be measuring.

  • Communication- A mission statement may help people see what your organization is working towards, but a theory of change gives more tangible information on what you are doing to get there. By including the methods in your theory of change statement, you can more clearly communicate to internal and external stakeholders what it is that your organization or program is doing.

  • Clarity- When developing a theory of change statement with organizations, I am often met with very different staff opinions regarding what the organization or program is working towards or the primary methods to get there. Developing a theory of change for an existing or new program or organization can ensure that staff and board members are on the same page regarding overall goals and methods.

3 Steps to Crafting a Theory of Change Statement

1. Write down the what, how, and for whom

A good theory of change statement includes your intended results (what you are trying to change), the methods (how you are making the change) and target population (for/with whom you are trying to make a change). Write these three components down to begin crafting your theory of change statement. The example provided is the theory of change for my organization- Capacity Building Consulting.

Example:

  • What/intended results: My organization's goal is to build fundraising and/or evaluation capacity to support organizations in successful fundraising and evaluation efforts

  • How/methods: My organization provides consulting, coaching, training and resources

  • For whom/target population: My target population is social sector organizations, including nonprofits, social enterprises, social service government agencies, and socially-minded buisnesses

2. Combine the information into 1-2 sentences

A theory of change statement should be succinct. While a longer theory of change may include more information, a 1-2 sentence theory of change statement provides a brief clear picture of the change your organization or program is trying to make. 

Example: Capacity Building Consulting builds fundraising and evaluation capacity of social sector organizations (intended results), including nonprofits, social enterprises, social service government agencies, and socially-minded businesses, (target population) through providing consulting, coaching, training, and resources (methods) that support organizations in successful fundraising and evaluation (intended results). 

3. Edit and get feedback

Now that you have your initial statement, refine it. Is there any information that isn't necessary to show the What, How, and For whom? Does it make sense to someone outside your organization? Does your staff agree on the intended results, methods, and target population? Is there any way to rearrange the information to make it easier to read or more succinct?

Example: Capacity Building Consulting provides consulting, coaching, training, and resources (methods) that support social sector organizations (target population) in building capacity to engage in successful fundraising and evaluation for their organizations (intended results). 

After developing a strong theory of change statement, use this information for evaluation, communication, and clarify the change you are making in the world. Funders also love to see this type of statement! 

I’m Amanda Wallander Roberts, MSSW, a consultant passionate about building fundraising and evaluation capacity with social organizations. I’ve helped over 60 social organizations fundraise and evaluate programs, including raising over $22million, and developing more than 50 logic models, evaluation plans, and process maps. Learn more about my services or contact me for support today!

 
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