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.


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