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Creating your theory of change: NPC’s practical guide

Creating your theory of change

A theory of change is a tool that allows you to describe the need you are trying to address, the changes you want to make (your outcomes), and what you plan to do (your activities). It can help you improve your strategy, measurement, communication and partnership working.

This practical guide draws on our work with clients and partners over several years to help organisations of all shapes and sizes think through the theory of change process from beginning to end.

How to create a theory of change

In our experience, it is nearly always better to engage a range of people when developing a theory of change. The process itself begins by identifying the group you are working with, setting out their needs and characteristics, and clarifying the final goal that you want to achieve. Once you have defined your final goal(s) you need to work backwards through the steps or intermediate outcomes needed to achieve it. You then need to consider how your activities will make this change happen. Throughout this process you need to think about enablers—conditions or factors that need to be in place for the project to work—and consider what evidence already exists that is relevant to your theory of change.

How to represent a theory of change

A diagrammatic representation of a programme or organisation is the centrepiece of most theories of change. This section includes a description of four ways to approach this (illustrated by examples): The CES Planning Triangle; logic model; outcomes chain; and written narrative.

How to use your theory of change

A measurement framework built around your theory of change will ensure you collect information that tells you what difference you are making. Designing this framework will involve deciding what data to collect, the level of rigour of evidence you need, and how to go about collecting this data. Our method for building measurement frameworks is set out in detail in NPC’s four pillar approach.

Creating a theory of change will also put you in a position to learn from your results to improve your services and help the sector you work in to become more effective.

More information

Our introduction to theory of change explains the origins of the technique and how it can be used to improve your work. We also offer full-day training courses with our expert consultants—check our events page for the latest dates. And our charity services can provide you with one-to-one support in developing a theory of change as a basis for clarifying strategy, measuring your impact or thinking about your place in the sector.

 

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