Geek is the new chic—or so the media says—and I can therefore get away with the slightly embarrassing admission that I recently created a theory of change for my life.

I’ve always had the sense of an implicit plan for what I want to achieve, but trying to articulate this to my stakeholders and funders (friends, family and employers) doesn’t really cut it. So, for a self-confessed geek, it seemed like the obvious thing to do.

I know where I want to end up in life and the things I need to accomplish along the way. I figured these out partly by looking at existing evidence about how the world works—if I get a degree in X I’m more likely to get employment in Y, and through this  I’ll be able to move up and then across to Z. And partly through trial and error: sometimes these experiences aren’t what you thought, and interruptions and distractions chase you round every corner. Which is why it helps to keep an eye on this causal chain and check you’re heading in the right direction.

Scribbling my theory of change on the back of a B&Q lamp box (which, awkwardly, I later had to return) was a healthy exercise. It helped me see what’s crucial to achieving my goal—the things I still need to do and those that actually won’t make a difference. Sadly, pretty lamps with no practical use fell into the latter camp.

Theory of change is a brilliant tool for this kind of (self) analysis. It helps you describe the change you want to make and the steps involved in making that change happen, working backwards from your final aim.

In the youth justice sector, the final goal is to reduce reoffending. The steps involved in achieving this change vary depending on the service being delivered. Pinning down your reasoning for how and why your intervention makes a difference builds a clear and plausible rationale for change based on high-quality evidence and allows  you to test it by collecting your own evidence.

In collaboration with NPC, the Youth Justice Board is providing training to youth offending teams and secure establishments to encourage this kind of thinking in service design and evaluation. This is part of a wider drive by the Ministry of Justice to improve the evidence-base for what really works in reducing reoffending, an area in which NPC has considerable experience.

So if you work for a YOT, YOI, STC and SCH in England or Wales and would like to attend a session, please visit our event page. All sessions are free and places are limited, so sign up soon!

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