Welcome to this article which is a continuation of our theory of change series. In this article we are going to explore some of the benefits of developing a theory of change.
But first, what is a theory of change?
A theory of change is a map, diagram or written description of how the activities you take part in will create the change you want to see in the world and ultimately deliver on your long term goals. It works through the inputs you need (from funding, human resources and equipment), what main activities you need to do in order to achieve the completed products or services which your charity provides. Crucially, however, it then maps out the journey your beneficiary needs to go on to see that change become a reality in the world.
What makes a Theory of Change such a powerful tool?
When created correctly, the process itself as well as the finished results can be extremely valuable to you and your team and well worth the time investment you make.
The great thing about a theory of change is that both the process of creating one as well as the end result can be extremely valuable.
When was the last time your team got together to talk about the future of your organisation, and how you can best come together to really create the change you are passionate about? Often times we can get so immersed in our day-to-day task list and everything that needs to get done that we don’t have much time to consider the wider picture.
Creating a theory of change is a fantastic opportunity to come together to create a clear vision of what you are doing and how to get there. The process can get everyone on the same page and create a renewed sense of purpose and energy within your team.
Feedback from one of our trainees after she had run her facilitation session:
“We came out of the session feeling so united as a team and that to me was probably the most exciting part of the whole thing. We all had a renewed sense of purpose and direction of what we needed to do. It’s so easy to get weighed down by everything that needs to get done, that having the time to hit reset and focus on what was really important has been so valuable to everyone on the team.”
– Rebecca H.
What are the benefits of developing a Theory of Change?
Communicating with Stakeholders
A theory of change is an effective communication tool which can demonstrate on one page who you are, what you do and the impact you have in the world.
A Theory of Change is a great format to use with external stakeholders since it is a visual tool which provides a lot of information which is easily digestible in a short amount of time. On one page it can set out what you are trying to achieve, the issues faced by your beneficiaries, what you are doing to support them and why your work is crucial as well as the resources you need.
It can also help communicate within your team. Both new and existing employees can benefit from having a global view of your organisation and how each element contributes to the whole. This can be highly motivating as the diagram can show your employees or volunteers how what they are doing is contributing to the big picture.
Demonstrating the impact you have in the world
A Theory of Change creates a strong foundation for impact evaluation.
Through using your Theory of Change as the foundation to impact evaluation, you can also more readily identify what you need to measure to make a thorough assessment of your interventions. Consequently, your team can be more targeted in the data it gathers and the analysis it performs creating a comprehensive impact evaluation, whilst being effective with the amount of time and resource you use. If one of our Impact Measurement courses is in your future, you will find we will be using your Theory of Change as the first building block in creating an approach to meaningful impact measurement, for this reason.
We all know that funds can be limited and finding the resources to do effective evaluations can be hard. A study found that those organisation with a Theory of Change were more likely to have received funding for their evaluation activities than those without (source).
Improving your interventions
A Theory of Change can lead to your services becoming not only more efficient but cost effective as well. The process of creating your theory of change means that you should have identified all of the major elements which need to be addressed in order to facilitate change. As a result, the interventions which you create should be targeted in the most appropriate areas. In addition, once you are able to evaluate your impact effectively you should be able to identify what is working well and what may need to be refined. In turn, you should be able to further improve services as a result of your impact evaluation.
A Theory of Change can also help provide clarity and a way to decide where to focus resource by identifying what factors you have identified as being critical to success. We are all trying to balance providing the support and services which are needed by beneficiaries with limited time and resource. A theory of change can help identify what it is that you need to prioritise and focus on to create impactful and sustainable change.
A Theory of Change can be a powerful and insightful tool for you and your team. As a result, it ranks in the top 5 management tools used by non-profits like you and 88% of management were satisfied with the benefits they received from creating their theory of change.
The process of creating your Theory of Change can be empowering and motivating to all those that attend, providing a renewed sense of purpose and dedication. A Theory of Change can also be used as a foundation to measuring your impact effectively, support you in your submissions for funding and steer decisions on how to prioritise time and resources.