Developing a clear Theory of Change (TOC) – ideally at the onset of a project – is critical to achieving project goals and demonstrating impact.
A TOC documents your strategy for achieving your project goals. It illustrates what you intend to achieve and how you plan to achieve it in a clear and sequential way, showing the link between activities and expected outcomes each step of the way. A good TOC can be used to explain the logic of your project to stakeholders and donors and presents a useful framework against which the intervention can later be evaluated.
Creating a TOC may sound simple, but as the implementing contexts and power dynamics of social development interventions are complex, and multiple stakeholders and partners are often involved a project, a TOC can be quite complicated. Consider this: if I am implementing a technology-led intervention with the ultimate goal of improving rural education, how many incremental changes are needed before this goal is reached, how are these changes connected to each other and how can this intervention be linked to the goal?
Monitoring & evaluation specialists are able to support the development of such TOCs. However, the resulting table or diagram can be difficult to understand, even for people who know the project well.
Diagrams that fail to clearly or adequately communicate the underlying theory of an intervention have been identified as a major challenge to using a TOC approach in M&E (see Rogers, 2014).
This is how to do it:
Develop your theory of change
Unpack what it is about your project that makes a difference. Assess the intervention approach, documenting the context, project activities, and collaboratively review your expected results by asking, “If we do this…then the result should be…?” We use this information to produce a detailed, tabulated TOC.
Conceptualise how to visually represent the TOC
The details of the TOC need to be simplified and visually conceptualised. Pull out the essential points and identify the key words which can be used to convey the result at each level. The concept should include a flow diagram to depict the sequence of results, as well as priorities or areas of emphasis. This could be in the form of a drawing or simple flowchart in MS PowerPoint.
Create a TOC infographic
Using this concept, we then consider what creative visuals would best demonstrate the events, sequences, and levels of importance. The use of icons helps to illustrate an event. Layout, colour shades, funnel shapes and arrows depict sequencing. Using colour and size differences, as well as bold text, helps emphasise various levels of importance. The result is an attractive image which helps the reader easily follow the steps and results in your TOC.
Data Innovator helped to develop a TOC diagram for an education intervention, which provides ICT equipment and training to teachers and managers to remove barriers to the use of technology in rural schools. Have a look at the image below, the diagram maps out the relationship between the intervention and both initial and longer term results in a clear and accessible way.
Visually transforming your TOC can generate clearer understanding of the work you do by communicating complicated processes in a simple and visually stimulating way.