What is a Theory of Change and why do I need one?


Tyryn Carnegie

A thoughtfully constructed ToC is essential to any organisation attempting to solve complex problems. A ToC is like a roadmap that outlines the steps by which you plan to achieve your goal, showing a clear and logical progression from inputs to the ultimate goal.

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We have the beginnings of a very simple ToC above. Our example organization has the goal of improving health outcomes. The organisation proposes a programme where households in the community get smokeless cooking stoves.  From the above it isn’t obvious that the intervention will contribute towards the goal, so we break down the process into its logical steps, indicating the outputs and outcomes. The simple but more complete ToC is presented below:

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The logical process of why introducing smokeless stoves would improve health outcomes is now clearer. If the organization’s goal was instead to improve education quality, it would be apparent that the causal link between introducing cooking stoves and education quality is tenuous. Thus a well-designed ToC leads to better planning in that activities are linked to a detailed understanding of how change actually happens. It also leads to better evaluation, as it is possible to measure progress towards the achievement of longer-term goals that goes beyond the identification of programme outputs.

Developing a ToC is simple but needs to be carefully thought out. When we assist organisations to develop or update their ToC, we will facilitate a workshop with key stakeholders from the organisation. During the workshop, participants first brainstorm their long-term goal. From there we work backwards to identify the key outcomes that must be in place for the goal to occur. The last stage is to identify the activities and inputs that yield specific outputs that lead to the desired outcomes. The final ToC will show the logical progression from Inputs to Activities to Outputs to Outcomes and finally to the Goal.


If you’d like to read more on ToC, theoryofchange.org and a guide by the United Nations Development Group are both excellent resources. Otherwise, feel free to get in touch via email.