Theories of change: Making them and making them work for you

The KDE Hub is a strong proponent of theories of change and is pleased they are a central feature for phase 2 (beginning April 2022) of the Mental Health Promotion Innovation Fund (MHP-IF). The potential all-around value of theories of change is impressive – for designing/ planning programs (broadly speaking to include a wide range of interventions, strategy, policy, projects, etc); managing, assessing and scaling programs; engaging partners; communicating about the program; fostering shared understandings. However, this potential value of theories of change will only be realized if they are practical to develop and if they are useful. The late John Mayne, a leading evaluation scholar and practitioner within Canada and internationally, said it best:

there is general agreement on the big picture about theories of change—models depicting how interventions are supposed to work—there is a proliferation of different interpretations of just what in practice a theory of change entails, how to develop one, and how to depict it.” (Mayne 2015)

Hub supports on theories of change

The Hub kicked off it’s suite of supports on theories of change with a webinar for the MHP-IF community on May 19th. The webinar featured Steve Montague, a fellow of the Canadian Evaluation Society and leading evaluation consultant on theories of change. Steve provided an excellent orientation to theories of change – what are they, essential features, how they’re different from logic models, various styles and types, how to use them, and emerging trends. You can access Steve’s presentation along with a summary of the May 19th webinar in the Hub’s event brief.

The webinar affirmed interest within the MHP-IF community, and we suspect this interest is shared more broadly, for additional supports on theories of change. Ways to develop them, especially using a participatory approach and in a virtual space, and ways to optimize their use were of greatest interest – hence, ‘making them and making them work for you’.

This blog allows us to reach a wider audience with products from the Hub’s May 19th webinar on theories of change that was for the MHP-IF community. It also curates a few resources on theories of change, from Steve’s presentation and a few others, each with a brief note about what it offers.

More to come in the Hub’s suite of supports on theories of change. One easy way to stay informed about any new Hub supports is to sign up for our Hub Updates, delivered to your inbox every 4-6 weeks.

Select resources on theories of change

Theory of change in ten steps

This guide presents a step-by-step, easy-to-use process to develop a theory of change at a project or program level. Alongside definitions, it outlines sequencing and sets expectations about what will and will not be included in a theory of change, and what will come later. This resource is for those new to or experienced with theories of change. It provides useful prompts, including for situation analysis and assumptions.

Theory of Change: Methodological Briefs – Impact Evaluation No.2

This UNICEF brief was developed to guide use of theory of change as part of impact evaluation. It describes common understandings of theories of change, process of development (including relevant data sources), examples of good practices and challenges, and more.

Useful theory of change models

This article describes a robust model for theories of change. It includes a discussion about ways that causality can be woven into theory of change through impact pathways and assumptions. It also describes options for creating theories of change suitable for simple and complex interventions.

University of Wisconsin Program Development and Evaluation /  University of Wisconsin. Logic Model Course

The University of Wisconsin’s Program Development and Evaluation department offers a rich collection of supports for learning about and developing logic models. What they refer to as ‘logic models’ are ‘theories of change’ since they include assumptions and external factors. Supports include downloadable templates, examples, popular resources, and a free online course.

Managing for sustainable development impact: An integrated approach to planning, monitoring and evaluation

This comprehensive book presents a range of approaches for developing theories of change and monitoring and evaluation systems, in the context of programs for sustainable development.