This is an Eval Central archive copy, find the original at evalacademy.com.
In this follow-up article, we will walk you through a step-by-step process of how you can develop your own Theory of Change (ToC) diagram for evaluation purposes.
You can also find our Theory of Change template here which you can use to support the development process. However, there is no one right way of developing a ToC.
Some people prefer working backwards from the program purpose, and it often depends on the program and the information that is already available to what method would work best. The method described below is one that I have found particularly useful from past experience.
When developing a ToC, it is important to keep the following points front of mind:
A ToC should be credible. It should be based on the insight and experience from different key stakeholders
A ToC should be achievable. You need to have the necessary resources to complete the desired change processes. Setting out to solve world hunger with a small budget isn’t the way to go!
A ToC should be supported. All key stakeholders should have some level of involvement in defining a ToC. Key stakeholders also need to agree with the ToC to ensure buy-in and understanding across all levels
A ToC should be testable. The diagram and accompanying narrative need to be a complete picture of the program. However, they also need to be clear, concise, and not over-complicate the description of the program’s work. Making sure you have indicators of achievement for each outcome will help you to collect the necessary data to test your ToC
How to Host a Theory of Change (ToC) Workshop
Developing a ToC should be a highly collaborative process. The best method I have found to develop a ToC is by holding a 2-hour workshop (which can be broken up into two parts if needed) with key stakeholders. The first step in your process should be to identify and gather all of the relevant stakeholders and agree on a time to come together for the workshop.
As previously mentioned, the ToC needs to be owned and used by stakeholders, so it is crucial that they believe in it and have a clear understanding of how it works. I have held ToC workshops both in-person (my preferred method) and online.
Some useful materials to gather prior to the workshop include:
If holding the workshop in-person: bring some big pieces of paper or have a whiteboard handy. Make sure you have lots of marker pens and different coloured sticky notes so that everyone can take part in workshopping the ToC
*Top tip: We suggest using different coloured sticky notes for each step in the ToC diagram (e.g., blue for activities, yellow for outputs, etc.)
If holding the workshop online: there are lots of types of online collaborative software you can use to workshop a ToC. My personal favourite is Miro which allows everyone to participate in adding to the ToC, moving things around, and editing the diagram
Your main job in the ToC workshop is to act as a facilitator to help the key stakeholders develop the ToC. In this article, we’ve provided a list of steps and some key questions that you can use to facilitate the ToC workshop.
Note that this process is for developing a ToC for evaluating an already established program. For planning and designing a new program, the questions can be reframed slightly to change the tense from “what we’ve done” to “what we’ll do.”
Key definitions to display for all key stakeholders throughout the ToC workshop
One last point before we get started; it is essential that you clearly define what a ToC is and is not for all stakeholders before you start to make sure they understand the intent of the workshop. This will make sure that everyone is on the same page and that there is a clear understanding of what the final product will be.
*Top tip: Make sure you have a note-taker on hand in the workshop to capture all the key details that aren’t listed on the sticky notes
The actions that will be taken by the program that are expected to contribute to the change. For example, this could include interviews with patients, training of clinicians, etc.
The products or the services that the program will create through the activities. For example, certain pieces of new knowledge (e.g., patients’ opinions) or new processes (e.g., a new clinic workflow).
The changes in knowledge (e.g., clinicians have a greater understanding of a condition), attitudes (e.g., patients change their perspectives about exercise), or skills (e.g., MOA’s learn how to use TNA) of the key actors that are expected to lead to a change in their behaviour (e.g., clinicians use their knowledge to support patients, patients exercise 3 times a week, MOA’s use TNA for tracking appointments) as a result of the program. Outcomes are sometimes broken down into intermediate, end of program, and high-level depending on when they are expected to be realized in the program life cycle.
The top-level changes that result wholly or in part from the outcomes (e.g., the change process) to which the program contributed to.
The overall goal/aim the program aims to contribute to; it explains the program’s reason for existence.
The pathways through which the program is expected to contribute to change. These are often actor specific to make them more tangible (e.g., Clinician Capacity Building Pathway, Clinic Workflow Pathway).
Describes the how and why between each step in a ToC. In the ToC diagram it is often presented using arrows.
A marker of accomplishment that can be used to measure the success of a program (e.g., did the program contribute to a certain outcome?).
The factors outside of the program’s control that are necessary to ensure the program’s success.
Creating an Agenda for your ToC Workshop
The way I workshop and develop a ToC is not linear. Here is an agenda of what to expect:
Purpose: What was the long-term goal of the program?
Target audiences: Who were the main target audiences of the program?
Activities: What were the program’s main activities and how were they carried out?
Outputs: What outputs did these activities result in?
Outcomes: What were the main outcomes of the program?
Impacts: What impacts did these outcomes lead to and how are they connected to the purpose?
Impact Pathways: What types of impact pathways were implemented?
Indicators: How do we measure the outcomes?
Assumptions: What are the underlying assumptions for each outcome?
I have also numbered each stage of the workshop process in the following ToC diagram. The steps that should be captured outside of the diagram (e.g., in a ToC tracking table, see part 1; “What is Theory of Change in Evaluation?”) and will be useful for evaluating the program and testing the diagram have also been included below for your reference.
*Top tip: take a photo of your whiteboard, sticky wall, or online workshop board after the workshop and keep it safe! You’ll need it to create a more consolidated version of the ToC diagram
Consolidating the Theory of Change (ToC)
The first ToC to come out of the workshop will look very messy, but don’t panic! Your notes will help you to consolidate and make sense of the ToC.
There is no right way to consolidate the ToC and it will take practice, but a useful technique is to think about the different target audiences identified and make sure each step in the change process (e.g., outcomes) is well established; if not, check to see if outcomes can be merged or if any logical steps are missing.
Drafting a supporting narrative is also something that takes practice, but it’s key to focus on identifying the causal logic. You want to clearly explain the theory behind the diagram so that everyone can understand it, even those outside of the program; focus on explaining who is doing what differently and why because of the program and its activities?
*Top tip: Probe stakeholders during the workshop to identify and determine the causal logic between each step and outcome, and make sure the note-taker writes this down in detail!
Validating the Theory of Change (ToC)
Once you have a consolidated ToC and draft narrative, the most important thing is to validate it with key stakeholders. Share both the model and narrative with them, walk them through it, and make sure it makes sense to everyone.
Have a list of questions ready to ask them if anything doesn’t quite make sense to you. Don’t forget to make sure that your ToC is credible, achievable, supported, and testable!
Have you worked with ToC before, do you have a different way of developing a diagram, or have questions? Comment on this article or connect with us on LinkedIn or Twitter!
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