Hi everyone. We'd welcome your view point and experience of working with a 'Theory of Change'.

They have been broadly criticized for being too cause-effect for systemic evaluation. But is it possible to change this view by asking critical questions about its nature? Can we ask questions about the TOC's determination? What assumptions underlye it? Does it conceal power dynamics that would be opened up if we were to probe more deeply at the TOCs margins? Is there ever a circumstance where we can deviate from the TOC to pursue ideas and information and still call it a TOC? In short - can we make TOCs systemic?

What thoughts come to your mind?

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Thanks Ann, yes, I think that we can develop more systemic ToCs. We sought to do this with the ACCRA evaluation I've just posted with a linked message to you. What helped us in this was that Oxfam and the other ACCRA partners were committed to a gender transformative programme that focused on governance systems. Furthermore, as we were undertaking an impact evaluation drawing on contribution analysis, the focus of our evaluation was on a wider change system rather than simply on the programme itself. In the evaluation process, we also had to work with the power dynamics between the ACCRA programme funders in the UK and the ACCRA programme delivery in Ethiopia (also Uganda and Mozambique) which was interesting. Especially we found different ToCs in the UK and among the African partners. So we sought to be transparent about this, and to work with the tensions involved. best wishes, John

Hi John

This sounds like an interesting and gritty evaluation John. It would be interesting to see how the boundary analysis approach we've described in the ISE4GEMs Guidance would have worked in your planning phases - to really articulate the inclusion/exclusions of the methods, field sites, stakeholders, etc.

I wonder too what analysis methods you used to pull this all together. Sounds like attention to power and positionality most likely played an important role in the programme/s. What to do when we have incongruent TOCs? I guess a systemic TOC calls for multiple interpretations of why and how change happens - recognising that this is a dynamic process. Just because it is on paper at a Head Office in London does not make it fixed and real. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me John,


Greetings from the middle of Canada,

I work a lot with Theory of Change and have found it incredibly useful in framing a range of questions for strategic planning, program planning, stakeholder analysis, outcome clarification, and evaluation. I start most of my work with a stakeholder mapping on a big piece of paper with coloured markers and that allows me to have the "power" discussions. I can then use those to identify evaluation narratives, as different stakeholders are looking for different kinds of outcomes and when resources are tight, organizations need to focus on data that will provide the best strategic feedback. 

As a result of all the resulting discussions, which can go as deep as needed for any given circumstance, I think T of C definitely raises awareness of the systems underlying everything. It seems to me that the linear "manufacturing/assembly line" mindset that has predominated our discourse is finally giving way to a more ecologically-influenced, network-like mindset of interrelationships and T of C reflects that.

Mind you, and tool is just a tool. Use it in the way that makes the most sense to your context. Be aware of the consequences of modifying, for sure, but modify as you need to. just be transparent about where you've modified and keep an eye on consequences. For example, sometimes I focus on the evaluation questions (what is the broader impact?) without having spent as much as time on needs assessment (what's the problem you're trying to solve?), so I need to remember to probe a little more about other aspects of the organization's work or processes.


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