Theory of Change and the logframe

Theory of Change (ToC) is an approach that tries to capture the complexity of societal change in a given context. Based on a thorough analysis if this context and the different parties that (could) influence the desired change - both positively and negatively - the Theory of Change can help an organisation to identify its own role and contribution to a higher and shared goal. As an organisation, you will be able to see the Pathway of Change: the things you can do to contribute positively to change, their relative importance and the order in which to do them. It will help you decide on what type of interventions you can do or shouldn't do. And it will help you to surface the assumptions that you as an organisation and as individuals implicitly made about the environment you work in, the change that you seek and the ways that you do it.

For some organisations, Theory of Change is an exercise that helps them to develop their strategic framework. This framework allows them to elaborate their interventions into concrete projects using logical framework methods. Others use ToC to design and manage the projects, replacing logframe approaches by ToC. In other cases, ToC is used retrospectively during evaluations of the impact of interventions, when baseline data of indicators is not available for instance.

In this series we'll have a closer look at the Theory of Change: what is it, what is its place in your organisation's strategic and operational decision making and does it really replace logical framework approaches?

What is Theory of Change?

As is often the case in international aid or non-profit management, there are many interpretations of what Theory of Change actually is.

For starters, we all have theories of change: ideas on how political, cultural, economic, religious, societal, local, small or big changes occur. We also have our ideas about what should be done to change things for the better. We have these ideas as private persons, but they also go around within organisations – on work related matters and others. But in organisations many of these ideas are implicit. There is a kind of consensus about them, but often they are not explicitly brought to the foreground, discussed or put to the test.

When we talk about Theory of Change as an instrument for international assistance or societal change, some will define it as something you do on a strategic level of an organisation. Others take a more practical point of view and see it as a project management approach that replaces logical framework methods. Some even define it as a synonym for the first column of the logical framework – i.e. the project logic column.

There are also different opinions on when you develop a Theory of Change. Is it a continuous process? Or do you do it once to prepare for a programme or to help you with your strategic reflection? Some organisations use ToC on the level of an individual project or on the level of their entire organisation. But there are also Theories of Change that rise above the project/organisational level and that describe how a particular sector, context or (worldwide) challenge should be addressed.

For some ToC is not something you do at a given time, but a way of thinking. It is like having goggles on that allow you to see things continuously in a certain perspective. For others, it is an ongoing process of action-learning. And still others see it as a product, a result of a reflection process.

For most people and organisations however, Theory of Change is that thing where you make an ‘artwork’: a drawing or schematic with cards and arrows that shows how the intervention or strategy will work. This drawing may be clear as day to its architects, but people who were not involved may sometimes get dazed and confused trying to make sense of all the symbols and arrows.

But at its best the Theory of Change is a process of interaction and discovery that helps you see beyond your familiar frames and habits and understand the full complexity of the challenge in front of you. It can help you imagine new solutions in dialogue with other people and organisations through a process of open inquiry and dialogue.


The Theory of Change (ToC) has everything to do with… change. You know that change is needed in a particular setting or context. So what do you – and others – have to do to achieve this change? That is in essence what ToC is all about: it helps you identify the desired change and gives you a clear(er) insight in the various conditions that must be in place so that your activities will achieve (or contribute to) the change that you seek.

Theory of Change sees this change as something complex and dynamic, with many contributing, influencing or even opposing factors. A consequence of this is that change more often than not isn’t in the hands of a single organisation. However in practice the scope of many ToCs is limited to the organisation that formulates it (but more on that later).

The main elements of a Theory of Change

The starting point of the creation of a ToC is the description and analysis of the change that you expect to happen. This change is the goal (or goals) that you want to achieve. Then you work back to identify the conditions that must be in place to achieve the goal(s). These conditions are referred to as outcomes.

These outcomes don’t stand on their own, but are related to each other. Some outcomes influence others or are influenced by others – positively or negatively. Some are a cause of another outcome. Some must happen before others can be realised. Identifying these relations and creating the right image of how the outcomes interact and are ordered (over time) is very important to get a good understanding of what it will take to achieve change.

A major part of formulating a good ToC is to identify and test your assumptions about the outcomes and their relations. Not only do you have to identify the relations between outcomes, but you also have to explain why you think the realisation of an outcome will support the achievement of others and lead to the desired change. How can you be sure that all outcomes have been identified? And what assumptions do you make about contextual factors?

This schematic overview of conditions/outcomes and their interactions is not static but may change over time, which is why it is important to revisit and update the ToC from time to time. Once you have a good initial idea of the outcomes and their relations – also called the Outcomes Framework – you can identify for each outcome what kind of activity, process or intervention is necessary.


The scope and purpose of your Theory of Change

As we’ve explained before, Theories of Change can be formulated at different levels:

  • Worldview ToCs describe how – political, social, economic, cultural... – change happens in a society or even on a higher level. For instance how a society could transform from a dictatorship to a democratic system, or how organising small family farmers could reduce rural poverty.
  • Organisational ToCs are closely linked to the vision and strategy of an organisation. The vision describes who the organisation thinks the desired change in society(/ies) may occur and how it chooses to position itself within this process. So on the one hand it describes a worldview like above, but it is more explicit about the role of your particular organisation. At strategy level the organisational ToC provides an overview in the choices of the organisation for the coming years. It identifies the precise societal changes (as in where exactly and in what contexts) that the organisation wants to contribute to and identifies the interventions or programmes that it wants to execute.
  • Policy or topical ToCs sometimes exist in larger organisations that work on different subjects, where creating an overarching ToC is difficult or would create a confusion because of the volume of information that needs to be included. Often an organisation ToC can be complemented by various policy or topical ToCs.
  • Programme / project level ToCs can be used as an alternative to a logical framework method. They focus on a very specific (country-wide or local) context to which the programme will contribute. In the project a Theory of Action is formulated to explain how the programme will contribute to the specific context. However the project’s Theory of Action can also contribute to a larger(topical/organisational/worldview) ToC. This link between a project’s limited Theory of Action and a broader ToC is what you see in the diagram below (by Hivos – 2015). But some organisations simply formulate a ToC at project level.

At what level you formulate your theories of change is entirely a matter of choice. For some organisations, ToC is used strictly for programme or project management and in that role it has replaced logical framework approaches. Other organisations use ToC strictly for strategic management or to analyse and describe the situation of their target group(s) and the change they desire (worldview ToC). You could use ToC of all levels in your organisation, but you are by no means required to do so. Even in programme management you can use ToC for certain programmes and outcome mapping or logical framework approaches for others.

A Theory of Change can serve different purposes

  • As mentioned you can use a ToC to design a programme or project
  • An additional purpose may be to improve the quality of audits. The idea here is to focus more on whether the resources have been used to effectively achieve the desired outcomes, instead of focusing on verifying if the proper procedures have been followed and the budget has been respected so that money was spent on the foreseen activities and outputs.
  • On a strategic level, ToC may be helpful to develop strategic learning and knowledge generation within the organisation.
  • ToC often facilitates the evaluation of programmes, because the long term outcomes of interventions (in other words their impact) has been clearly identified and described. Also the monitoring focuses very much on this level, rather than on monitoring direct outputs. Finally the assumptions underlying the theory of change have been clearly identified, in such a way that they can be actually tested by the evaluators.
  • Because ToC takes a larger perspective of societal change and describes the role that different actors can play – including your own organisation – it provides clear leads on the possibilities for multi-actor collaboration. Not only that, but it also makes it possible to follow up the collective impact of such a collaboration. Rather than making the sum of the monitoring information from different actors (which more often than not is too different between organisations to actually add up), it is possible to analyse this collective impact from an overall viewpoint.
  • Should an organisation wish to increase its efforts in a certain context, it is easier to scale up its interventions. Instead of just doing more of the same with more resources, ToC can give an indication on what additional roles the organisation can play.
  • The ToC may also provide a clue on when an organisation could scale down and/or end its interventions, because it has fulfilled its role in the change process when it can say that the outcomes have been realised or solidly in the hands of other (local) actors.

Again not every Theory of Change needs to focus on all these possible purposes, but this overview does show that ToC can do more than help with strategic or operational management. However there is also a danger here: if you have too many purposes for your ToC then it may become too complicated, too detailed, too hard to understand and too difficult to put into practice. So it’s important to make choices and to clarify the purpose of your ToC (and develop other ToCs that may be similar but have a different emphasis).


How to create a Theory of Change

There are many manuals about how to develop a Theory of Change. Here we will follow the 6 steps that Intrac identified based on an analysis of a good number of ToC instruction manuals.

However it is important to note that you are not obliged to do the process in this order. Below we start the process completely from scratch. But often organisations already have many things in place and they start formulating their Theory of Change later on. This is okay, one main principle of ToC is to make the implicit explicit. In fact, evaluators will sometimes stimulate you to formulate the ToC of a programme right at its end, to make the reason (logic) and assumptions behind the intervention visible in order to be able to test the assumptions and the pathway of change.


1. Identify how change happens in a context

There are many ways to bake a pie and there are many ways to achieve change in a particular context. This is not so much a matter of the right way and the wrong way. Instead it is about identifying the possible strategies to achieve the change that we seek and – importantly – to make our own choices in this matter explicit. This means that you need to develop a thorough understanding of the situation and how different parties interact.

  • Who are the different actors that can influence the situation, either in a positive or in a negative way? In other words what are the different forces that have the potential to help achieve the outcomes? Each organisation has its own focus and identity, but many share values, attitudes, relationships, actions and objectives (in line with the outcomes that you will identify). Not all actors will have a positive influence on the desired outcomes and change, so it’s important to identify potential ‘adversaries’ as well and make plans on how to reduce their influence. Alternatively, you could work on changing their attitudes.
  • What are the factors in the context that could have a positive or negative influence on the desired change?
  • What or who needs to change (targets) and in what timeframe?

Improving your understanding on how change happens can come from discussions within your organisation (making implicit knowledge visible) and with others, from documentation and public sources, from research, from participatory analysis with stakeholders/beneficiaries (workshops, interviews, surveys…) and other approaches.

With the information about the different stakeholders, forces and influences you can create a System Map. This kind of mapping not only allows you to identify who does what, but also to understand how the different forces interact within the context.


2. Identify your own role

The system map will help you to identify the organisations or actors that also work on the outcomes that you want to realise. In many cases your organisation on its own will not be able to achieve all necessary outcomes and achieve the durable change of the long-term goal(s). So what can your organisation do, given its strategic focus, expertise, resources, etc. and what can others do? What kind of working relationships (partnerships) could we establish with certain parties so we can focus on what we do best and together reach the desired outcomes and change?

Partnership or collaboration are the most direct and active ways to work with others, but not all relationships will necessarily have this level of involvement. In many cases it is more a matter of aligning your interventions with those of other actors.

3. Develop a conceptual pathway – the Theory of Action

Once it’s clear how change could happen within a certain context – the Theory of Change – it’s time to identify what you as an organisation are going to do to support that change: the Theory of Action.

Some manuals describe the following steps as something you do with your own team. However if you really want a solid ToC it’s much better to see this as a participatory exercise. Seek the involvement of different partners and stakeholders (including potential beneficiaries). Find a good facilitator, organise one or more workshops and allow for discussion (rather than sending documents around by email).

A] Identify long term goal(s)

The first step in developing the pathway to change is to identify the change that you want to achieve. This is your long-term goal. It is a vision of success that you create together with your staff and other stakeholders. But this vision is not just a beautiful dream: it has to be firmly grounded in reality. It has to describe real people, real situations, real cultures, real organisations, etc. It has to be plausible, not some kind of utopia.

You can have more than one long term goal, but if you have more than one goal you will quickly end up with a very large number of outcomes that all have their relations and assumptions and you will end up with a big giant ToC that no-one understands (so KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid).

To clarify this vision or long term goal, you can describe what the desired change in behaviours, attitudes, capabilities, values and/or relationships will be.

Because the situation in which you work changes over time, your vision also has to by dynamic. This means that working together with other key actors you will need to solve new problems that occur and modify your approach were necessary.

B] Mapping and connecting outcomes (conditions)

The next step is to identify the key changes that are needed to achieve this goal. This is sometimes called mapping. The key changes are the conditions (or outcomes) that must be in place for the change to occur. Explain for each condition/outcome why it is necessary to achieve the goal(s).

These outcomes are not separated building blocks: they can have all sorts of relationships between them, which you must identify. For one thing, it will take more or less time to achieve certain outcomes. That is why the technique of backwards mapping is often used: starting from the final goal(s) you can identify the long term outcomes, then the intermediate outcomes and finally the early term outcomes.

Make sure that you identify the changes that must take place to achieve the long term goal(s). Don’t lose yourself in a wish-list of ‘nice-to-have’ changes but focus on outcomes that are essential for long-term success and on the main topic. Resist the temptation to include all kinds of related topics and to try and solve any kind of problem that you encounter in a given setting or context.

Through this process you will get an overview (or chart) with the outcomes and their connections, which is called the Pathway of Change (or Conceptual Pathway). You will probably start with a first draft that you’ll refine gradually, so this is kind of a gradual process. And even later on when you’re already executing your vision you will need to update the pathway of change.

Once you have this overview, it’s also important to think about who can do what. More often than not your organisation will not be able to achieve all the outcomes on its own. So who can contribute to these outcomes? And how can we collaborate with others to achieve the final goal(s)?

C] Identify possible interventions/activities

Once all the outcomes and their relations have been identified, you can reflect on what activities, approaches or interventions are needed to achieve each outcome. At this stage it is more about the type of activity or intervention; there is no need to go into detailed planning of interventions yet.

However it is important to get to clearly defined outcomes at this stage:

  • What does success look like? On what scale will you be working (national, regional, local)? You have to specify the range and scope. Success may have a material form, but more often than not it is a question of people. This means that success may not be physically tangible but that it may be a question of changed behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, values, etc.
  • Who is the target population? Whose situation will change when this outcome is achieved? Who will benefit from the intervention(s)? Who are the key constituents?
  • What is the expected timeframe? This depends on the time it will take to for the intervention to achieve the desired change, but also on the relation between each outcome and possible others. It may well be that other outcomes must be achieved before this one.
  • What amount of change is necessary for success? More often than not this is not a simple yes/no or all-or-nothing answer. If the desired outcome is that the women of a region or country are literate (with the goal of reducing discrimination against women for instance), how many women have to be trained before you have a critical mass that is sufficiently large to speak of success (and sustainability)? Ten women is clearly not enough, but even in the most developed nations there is never 100% literacy. Here the reflection is not so much about numbers (that is what indicators are for and we’ll get back to that) but more about how the (durable) change will look like that a programme should be able to achieve.

This process will give you a first version of a diagram or map with the outcomes, activities and their relations. As explained before you’ll have to go through several cycles of refinement, revision and adaptation with different stakeholders to get to a final version.

In the ToC example above, the contribution of the organisation to the overall change process is marked with the thick black arrows. In the middle, the main intervention strategies are in the boxes with the thick edges: 'Continuous training of medical staff' and 'Continuous management' training respectively. The main assumption here is 'Good political management' which will have to reduce political meddling in nominations of doctors and other medical staff and create a real motivation to work on infrastructure, fight corruption and so on. This assumption must be elaborated and clarified in the next step.

The main purpose of this diagram is that it provides a good and understandable overview of your Theory of Change. You can use all kinds of visual aids (colours, pictograms, arrows…) to accomplish this. And yes, in some cases your ToC will resemble a certain figure and you can emphasise this and release your inner creative person. But don’t force it, don’t make the message secondary to the artwork and don’t simplify too much or modify the content to fit into your beautiful artwork.

In your narrative document, it’s important to explain the rationale of your ToC: why are the different outcomes needed to achieve the overall goal and why will the different interventions lead to the achievement of the outcomes and final goal(s)?

4. Identify the assumptions

Assumptions are rules of thumb that influence our choices. We use these rules of thumb both as individuals and as organisations. When we create our mental picture of how change is going to happen, we make a number of assumptions about the situation (context) and how people and organisations are going to act and behave. These are called contextual factors. But we also make assumptions about the Pathway of Change that we are designing:

  • We assume that all existing conditions (outcomes) have been identified
  • We make assumptions about the connections between the outcomes and how they can be achieved in the short/intermediate/long term.
  • We assume that the planned interventions will lead to the desired outcomes.

We have to make the assumptions explicit, so that they can be debated, enriched and checked (by us before we start to do things or by evaluators in the course of an intervention or thereafter.

So listing the assumptions is not enough: it is important to test them – not just at the design phase but throughout the lifetime of the Theory of Change. This is why the identification of the assumptions is important, because then we can verify if they hold true. If they don’t, we will need to update our ToC and adapt or increase our interventions.

Together, the conceptual pathway / Theory of Action and the assumptions make sure that the ToC can be tested and validated or disproved (partially or as a whole). Evaluators can verify to what degree the outcomes are achieved, whether the assumptions hold true and whether the theory as a whole leads to the achievement (or contributes to) of the end goal.

The result of this (initial) process is:

  • the Theory of Change diagram: in some cases the reality is so complicated that a single diagram becomes too complex. So organisations sometimes use different diagrams or in some cases don’t bother with the diagram and only use a narrative document.
  • a narrative document that describes the expected story about how change is going to happen. It also explains and details the different elements of the Theory of Change.

5. Monitor change

Knowing if change actually takes place – and taking action by modifying your intervention(s) where necessary – is an important part of ToC thinking. Together with regular testing of assumptions this is also what makes ToC more of a process than just a product in terms of a diagram and a narrative document.

The focus of monitoring is not so much on the intervention itself, but on seeing whether the desired change as described by the outcomes really takes place. If you have a ToC that has identified outcomes on the short, the intermediate and the long term, you can identify indicators on these different levels. As the scope of this change is often larger than the organisation’s outreach (the organisation contributes to change; it cannot entirely be attributed to what the organisation did), monitoring is not so much about the follow-up of activities or measuring outputs. Instead this is more impact monitoring or impact assessment, that often involves information from different actors and sources outside the organisation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that information gathering has to be complex and depend on large scale surveys.

Because your organisation generally only has a specific contribution in the achievement of certain outcomes and the realisation of the final goal, certain things will be under your control and others won’t be. This means that it makes sense to focus your monitoring efforts on the effects that are more or less under your control. Sometimes this is indicated in the ToC chart with a line that indicates the accountability ceiling, or with different areas that indicate your sphere of control, your sphere of influence and your sphere of interest. Of course this doesn’t mean that you are not interested in information about outcomes or context factors that lie outside your control/influence.

The monitoring of change goes hand in hand with the examination of the assumptions. Do they still hold true or not? Does change at one level of the pathway of change indeed support change on a higher level? If this is not the case then the assumption may be false.

6. Critical reflection

The reason for this regular monitoring and evaluation is not to produce reports – for donors or for management – but to re-examine the strategy and programmes from time to time. During this reflection, the following questions can help you along (Intrac, 2017):

  • Is the Theory of Change still valid?
  • Is the organisation / programme working with the right people in the right way?
  • To what extent have anticipated changes led to changes in the lives of targeted populations?
  • What is now better understood than before?
  • What needs to change in the understanding of how change happens, or an organisation or programme’s specific role within that?

The organisation must use the lessons from this reflection to act and to adapt the intervention(s), assumptions, strategy and so on.

ToC and the logical framework

So what’s the deal between Theory of Change and the logical framework approaches? Does ToC replace the logical framework?

For some organisations it does: they use ToC to manage their projects and programmes instead of the logical framework. They use the diagram instead of the project logic column because the find the linear cause-and-effect structure too limiting. They combine it with a PME system that use indicators and they follow up the assumptions.

One reason for replacing the logframe with ToC is to be liberated of the straight jacket of donor procedures. Because the logframe has become an obligatory part of the contract with the donor, it has lost its flexibility. Using the logframe is not something that these organisations do to manage their projects and impact, but to manage their donor funding (which is not the same). It has become an obligatory number, a box-ticking exercise.

But originally the logframe was intended to be flexible. In every step of its development (LFA, PCM and RBM) more emphasis was put on true flexibility, true participation, true learning through M&E etc. But these were always very much restrained because of strict funding legislation and administrative procedures (red tape). So there is a fear that Theory of Change in time will also fall victim to such an evolution and that it will become a ‘Logframe on steroids’ – just another box-ticking exercise.

The real potential and advantage that Theory of Change promises comes about when it is used on a strategic level, in combination with logical framework approaches to manage the interventions. This offers the best of two worlds. At the one hand, Theory of Change allows an organisation to see beyond its usual scope (specialisation, available resources, geographical location). It rightly sees change in a society as something that cannot realistically be achieved by a single actor – however well-funded it may be. It lays bare the complexity and many dimensions of change at this level. It clarifies the overall story of this change; the big steps that have to be taken.

Logframe approaches on the other hand remain very useful to take these big ideas (outcomes) and break them down in practical steps, intermediate outputs and everything practical that is needed to manage a project. They help you formulate a project in a participatory manner and organise the daily management of an intervention. That is, if you use them to really manage the project and not just to appease your donor.

So rather than replace the logical framework approaches, the Theory of Change can complement them and enrich your strategic thinking. The real advantage to this combination of ToC and logframes is that the ToC allows you to look beyond the scope of your own organisation and your own interventions. It broadens your view and allows you to show how your interventions contribute to a larger change movement, rather than pretending you’re doing everything on your own. However, this is precisely what many ToCs do, making them unrealistic and not really believable.

The good and the bad about the Theory of Change

  • ToC provides a comprehensive description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a certain context.
  • ToC takes the complexity and dynamic nature of a context into account. It analyses the many facets involved and examines the relationships between them. As such, it doesn’t force you to simplify the road to change in a limited number of steps or to see it as a singular path of cause and effect (which is often a critique on logical framework approaches).
  • TOC can help setting up a dialogue between stakeholders. Once the ToC has been formulated (diagram and/or text) it can be used to communicate your work clearly to other colleagues, partners, donors, etc.
  • ToC gives you a better understanding of the links between activities (or projects) and the change you want to achieve (the goals). It allows you to understand what is necessary on top of / next to your own efforts and how other factors can strengthen or hinder your activities. As such, it fills in the gap (sometimes called the Missing Middle) between a programme or change initiative (your activities) and the ultimate goals in terms of (societal) change.
  • ToC makes assumptions and other unsaid things explicit. By explicitly dealing with long-held assumptions, Theory of Change thinking can also support innovation and ‘out of the box’ thinking
  • Because of this clearer understanding of the complete picture, you will be able to do better planning – although ToC doesn’t give you a ready-made planning method.
  • ToC allows for better evaluation, because progress is express in terms of the realisation of the different outcomes that are necessary to achieve the goals (rather than just monitoring the progress on outputs of activities). ToC describes the story of how change is expected to happen and because this is clearly described it is a good base to assess any long-term change. However ToC doesn’t provide you with clear instructions on how to do this impact assessment: you will still have to identify the appropriate impact assessment/evaluation methodologies.

  • One particular danger is that the chart of drawing of the goal(s), outcomes, interventions, assumptions and their relations can become so complex that no-one understands it anymore. This is also known as ‘Death by diagram’. A related danger is that the concept of the artwork becomes more important than the content, so that it looks nice and simple but doesn’t explain anymore how change actually can be achieved.
  • Some organisations start with ToC because they find other approaches too long, complex and cumbersome. However ToC does require at least as much effort to do it will. Maybe even more, as there is a bigger need to establish contacts, partnerships and so on to be able to see the bigger picture. As an organisation, you need an involvement that is bigger than the usual scope of your projects/programmes.
  • Sometimes organisations want to introduce ToC because they assume it will make monitoring, evaluation and learning easier. This is not the case: ToC puts as much emphasis on gathering information as any other approach. It may make it easier to identify change on impact/outcome level, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to invest in M&E (or PME, or PMEL…) anymore.
  • As an organisation, ToC is really only useful if you are willing to learn and adapt your strategy, thinking and interventions. This is not unique to Theory of Change, but if you’re not willing to do this, it will become just another ‘box ticking exercise’ where you go through the motions without capturing the essence.
  • The ToC is not really a planning tool. It can provide strategic orientation and a sense of direction in what outcomes have to be achieved before others can improve. But ToC in itself will not help you plan your intervention(s).
  • There is a danger that ToC becomes a top-down exercise again as many manuals speak of an exercise you can do with your team where you reflect on goals and outcomes and a pathway to change. It’s perfectly possible to create a Theory of Change with your own group, without any involvement of stakeholders or clients/beneficiaries. Unlike the Logical Framework Approach for instance ToC doesn’t provide clear instructions on how to involve (local) stakeholders in your project or strategy. But of course for many organisations such involvement is a given and its really in their organisational culture and DNA.
  • The ‘Omnipotent Organisation’: when an organisation does a good job to identify a whole host of interdependent but different types of outcomes and then says ‘and we will change all of the above’. This happens in circumstances where the (donor)organisation is virtually the only actor left standing and both the local civil society and government is very weak. Then there’s the danger that the organisation will claim that it will achieve all these changes, although it doesn’t really have the expertise or the resources to do so. A similar scenario is that of ‘Showing the flag’: a really big, well-funded organisation that prefers to do it all alone so that it can claim all the positive effects for the glory of its government or international donor (the flag in question). While this is not exclusively linked to ToC, there is a danger that the mapping exercises lead to taking too much on one’s plate rather than sticking to what one knows best (and collaborate with others for the rest).


Both Theory of Change and Logical Framework methods are valuable instruments. ToC is able to provide a deep understanding of the context(s) you are working in, how change can be achieved in a complex setting and what the role (contribution) of your organisation can be. Once you’ve identified the big outcomes your organisation can work on, you can identify intervention strategies and use the logical framework to design the specifics of each particular intervention and how you are going to execute and manage it.

This combination of Theory of Change and logical framework combines the best of both worlds, but it is not the only possible way. Many organisations use ToC to manage their projects rather than using a logframe approach. However there is a danger here that such a ToC will focus entirely on what the organisation will do (as it describes its intervention) and loose the broader perspective. Or that the organisation will claim that it will deal with all the needs of the target group(s) while in reality it doesn’t have the capacity to do so.

Something that is less present in many manuals is how to formulate the ToC in a participatory way, involving (potential) beneficiaries and other stakeholders. There is a danger that ToC becomes a top-down exercise, created by a small group of specialised staff. While this can be your starting point, it is important to get the input and feed-back of others on your theory. This will allow you to refine it in the beginning and review it later on, so you can create that beautiful piece of art that explains it all. Just make sure that the artwork doesn’t become more important than the content!

Theory of Change helps us to make our implicit assumptions explicit and pushes us to reflect on how we will deal with these assumptions, to deal with them and to monitor them over time. This helps us to understand the ‘boundary conditions’ of our interventions and what we can/must do when these conditions change over time. But the assumptions also provide us a valuable entry point for evaluation. By making them explicit they can be tested during an evaluation, which provides us an opportunity for organisational learning and improvement of our strategy and our interventions over time. This is what makes Theory of Change dynamic rather than a fixed product.