Creating your theory of change: NPC’s practical guide

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 resource is our old guidance on creating a theory of change. Since it was published it has proved to be one of our most popular resources. We’ve now released an updated guide, bringing together everything we’ve learnt from helping charities and funders develop their theories of change. Read our new ten step guide here.



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.

We offer theory of change training for charities and funders throughout the year. Find out more on the events page.

More on theory of change