Theory of change is a process which describes how your charity intends to achieve its mission. We’ve worked with many different charities to develop one and seen that it can have a big impact.
Over the next few months, with the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we are going to be rewriting and redesigning our guidance on theory of change and how it relates to data collection. To make the new guidance as useful as possible, we would like your views.
Organisations that do it well have the right culture in place: a culture in which there is an appetite for learning from data and improving wherever possible. They also do the fundamentals, as set out in a range of NPC reports, and which will remain the same:
- Start by agreeing the change you want to achieve and how.
- Consider what you already know , or know with enough confidence, and what unanswered questions are most important? And it always helps to think separately about: i) the underlying evidence for the thing that you do; and ii) evidence that you are delivering the thing effectively.
- Keep things in proportion and minimise the burden on staff and service users.
All of this is still true, but we have learned a lot over the last few years about how to make theory of change more useful and how to apply the approach in different situations.
In particular, we find that charities and funders have mixed experiences when it comes to the implementation of the theory of change approach. It doesn’t always go to plan, people get lost in detail or produce something too bland to be of use. There isn’t consensus or understanding about the right language to use, and it can become a tick box exercise. We believe that smaller organisations struggle the most, especially those without a lot of experience. And we are keen to identify and resolve the problems faced.
To help us improve our guides we would like to invite people to answer a few questions in this form. We’d like to know your own experiences. What has worked well what has not? Are there circumstances where theory of change and measurement are more difficult? We are interested in anyone’s thoughts, but in particular those from smaller charities and consultants who have supported them.
Alternatively, you could drop us line (email@example.com) and we would be happy to have a conversation. The most important thing for us is to build our next set of guidance from diverse range of views and experiences so do please get in touch to let us know what you think.
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.
Applied well, theory of change can support charities and funders to take a systemic approach to their work. This report identifies five common pitfalls when using theory of change, and walks through five rules that will help organisations to use the approach to tackle complex problems.
NPC has worked with many charities and social enterprises over the years to help them work out what data they need to understand and improve their work. Here our head of impact management James Noble introduces the different kinds of information organisations can collect.