A lightbulb with ideas coming off of it

Our insights: using theory of change within an organisation

By Kathryn Dingle 16 April 2021

You might have seen from my previous blog post that NPC has been speaking to organisations about the opportunities and challenges of using of the Theory of Change and data to support learning.

We are interested in exploring the question, what if there was a digital product and/or community to help people use a Theory of Change to learn and adapt throughout their organisation?

We have been lucky enough to speak to a range of organisations about their experiences. We are interested in sharing these insights and getting your input on where we should go next.

Insights about using a theory of change:

The process of creating a theory of change is valuable for individuals/organisations. As a result of the process, many have benefited from a clearer internal and external narrative about their work, more integrated services and more outcomes focused evaluation.

However, for some there is a disconnect between the theory of change and their day-to-day work. There is a sense that a theory of change is inflexible and does not fit to their day-to-day work.

This is a result in part due to:

  • The language and diagram are inaccessible for many groups.
  • A lack of clear understanding of the theory of change across the organisation.
  • Individuals are unsure how it fits with their role and what value a theory of change adds to their work.
  • A theory of change is seen as inflexible and something that is hard to adapt.
  • Individuals are unsure what to do with a theory of change when projects and/or user needs change.
  • Individuals are unsure how a theory of change connects to their strategy or their learning processes.
  • Most organisations are confident in their theory of change and wanted to collect multiple years of data before reviewing and iterating the theory of change.

A handful of organisations did review their theory of change on a regular basis. Methods for doing this included:

  • Creating an evaluation framework from the outcomes in the theory of change and matching the data to each outcome to test the assumptions. This is largely done on a 6-monthly or annual basis.
  • Testing the pathways and assumptions with partners, funders and other organisations doing similar to validate the theory of change.
  • Insights about collecting and using data:

Most organisations use theory of change to create an evaluation framework. The majority of organisations are able to collect the information they need, but the biggest data collection priority is data collection to meet funder requirements, even if this information isn’t within the theory of change.

Once collected, some organisations struggle to use the data to help drive decisions making or learning. Others are scared by data or worried about doing something wrong and as a result lots collect all possible information in case they need it at some point. Resulting in organisations collecting data that they do not use.

Now we need your help:

We need to focus in on a key problem(s) to explore further. Below are a series of questions that we could explore. These questions will us to focus our scope and will be the starting point for our upcoming idea sessions.

We want your thoughts on which areas we should focus. Share your top 3 areas in our quick survey to help shape our digital products and resources.

Cast your votes here.

Below are the twelve questions we are exploring. You can find them in the survey!

A screenshot of the how might we questions we want to explore

Think we have missed something or want to connect about this work?