Once you have conducted your formative research, you are ready to design your strategy. Creating a Theory of Change is one way to do this.
Theory of Change:
Why develop a theory of change?
Concentrate resources on activities that will contribute to your desired impact.
Guide and focus evaluation by setting out the areas you wish to collect data on.
Promote shared understanding among different stakeholders about the purpose and process of an intervention, giving an anchor point for further action.
You should begin by agreeing the process for developing your theory of change. Consider the following areas:
Who should be involved in developing the Theory of Change? This is likely to include decision-makers in your own organisation, but beneficiaries, implementers and external stakeholders can bring additional expertise. Involving these groups in ToC development can also help to get their buy-in to the programme.
External consultants can help to facilitate Theory of Change development processes, providing both expertise and an impartial perspective during challenging discussions.
Time and Resources
Theory of Change development can take anything from days to years. Agreeing upfront how much time and human resource you have to dedicate to the process is important for managing expectations and staying efficient.
Theory of Change development
This is a summary of the main stages of developing a theory of change.
Summarise evidence of need and context
Your formative primary and secondary research should provide you with deeper understanding of your focus issue, how it affects your target audience, and what else has been tried to solve this issue. Review your research findings, honing in on what needs to change and where your programme is most likely to have an impact.
Agree your intended impact
This is the long-term goal of your work. For example: ‘A reduction in smoking uptake among female youth in Nairobi’
Set out your long-term outcomes
Working backwards from your impact, set out the main changes that need to happen to achieve it. Aim for no more than four.
Map out your intermediate outcomes
Continue to work backwards, plotting out the preceding stages. What needs to happen to achieve your long-term outcomes? Think about the order in which outcomes will occur.
Set out the products, services or facilities that will help bring about your desired outcomes (e.g. a series of talks held in schools about smoking prevention). Use your primary and secondary research, as well as broader behavioural insights, to identify the most effective levers for bringing about your desired outcomes (e.g. using influencers or trusted messengers).
What have you assumed about the causal relationships between the different stages of the theory of change? What conditions need to be in place for its logic to hold? For example, for a series of talks to be effective in delivering smoking reduction, young people must attend them and pay attention.
The resource below provides more details on each of the stages.
When developing the SKY Girls Theory of Change for tobacco, we chose to set out not only our activities and outputs, but the ‘framing factors’ that would dictate our approach to programme development and messaging.
These were an essential part of what we thought would make the intervention unique and effective. For example, our formative research suggested that other smoking campaigns had been ineffective because messages about the health risks of smoking don’t feel salient to teenagers in the high-pressure ‘hot moment’ when they are offered tobacco.
Therefore, we wanted to make sure all SKY content ‘started with the person, not the issue’: locating smoking messaging and activity within the context of what girls cared about, like feeling part of a cool peer group.
You can use your theory of change to develop a timing plan, setting out when the different activities and outputs are likely to happen. This might include a ‘messaging roll-out’ document setting out which outputs you wish to focus on at each stage of the campaign.
Theory of Change Evolution
At SKY, our Theory of Change is not a static document but a constantly evolving resource. Before launching SKY in a new country, we conduct formative research with target beneficiaries and other stakeholders to assess which of the elements of our Theory of Change need to be adapted. For example, based on the formative research in Ghana that showed most girls saw shisha as ‘harmless’, we incorporated activities to inform girls that shisha is also tobacco. As we incorporate new issues into the SKY Girls programme, we continue to update our Theory of Change, using the discussions around it to help us in our ongoing strategic planning.
Using your Theory of Change for monitoring and evaluation
Your Theory of Change sets out your intended activities, outputs and impact. Therefore, when evaluating your programme you will need to test whether or not each of these is being delivered as planned. You can use your Theory of Change as the basis for creating a monitoring and evaluation framework, identifying indicators to measure each phase of the process. For more details, see Monitoring and Evaluation.