Theory of Change Workshop Online - pre-COVID-19

Inspired by Barbara Klugman's extremely helpful blog on her virtual theory of change workshop, I would like to contribute a few lines on my recent experience with visualising across different remote sites.

Our workshop was not about building a theory of change from scratch, but about enriching and validating the theory of change my evaluation team had reconstructed. The workshop was not totally "virtual" either: We held it in a meeting room of the organisation that had commissioned the evaluation; some ten staff members were physically present in the room, as well as two members of our evaluation team who facilitated the workshop. The meeting room had a large screen and a camera & a microphone that captured the entire room. Some five individual participants and one small group called in from different locations in Africa, Asia and Europe.

To avoid technical complications associated with real-time collaboration on a shared screen, we had shared a visualisation of our draft theory of change beforehand (via e-mail). For the conference, we used a rather large (some five metres wide) visualisation made of large sticky notes in different colours. Although those who participated remotely could not read everything on the cards, they could use their e-mail copies to check. During the workshop, the facilitators added and moved around notes following the participants' verbal instructions. I felt a bit like the weather reporter on TV when watching myself on the screen to make sure I pointed to the right places in our visualisation. 

As facilitators, we made sure we never turned our back to the camera and that the remote participants' contributions received full and timely attention. At times, we had to interrupt discussions in the "real-life" meeting room so that the remote participants got their turn to speak. We tried to maintain a lively and cheerful atmosphere so as to capture everybody's attention - and to keep up the pace so that we could complete the session well within three hours. 

Combining real life visualisation and digital interaction has the advantage of allowing participants to see each other while the facilitators work on the visualisation. If you need an electronic version of the visualisation after the workshop, someone needs to turn the poster into a digital version, which - ideally - all participants in the workshop should get a chance to see and comment on before it is finalised.   

This may sound a bit "old school" but it works well when you work with a group bringing together people with diverging experience using digital media.


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Comment by Michaela Raab on July 14, 2020 at 0:34

Thank you Rick for recommending parevo! I'll get in touch if I'll try it out! 

Regards, Michaela  

Comment by Rick Davies on April 6, 2020 at 21:09

Hi Michaela

You may be interested in a free-to-use web app I have been trialling, which enables the collaborative online development of multiple storylines about alternative futures, called ParEvo,described here

One of its possible uses is as an early-stage activity for ToC development. Before more schematic and abstract diagrammatic versions are developed

If you and any others are interested I am happy to do a Zoom Q&A session at a suitable time

regards, rick davies

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on April 6, 2020 at 20:00

Thanks Sylvia for drawing our attention to very critical points. 

Comment by Sylvie Cordier on April 6, 2020 at 19:38

Just a couple of suggestions in order to be inclusive of persons with disabilities with sensory impairment ( visual and hearing particularly). This does not apply only in this instance of looking at ToC but in any webinars you may want to organise.

  • First and foremost, as a good practice, always check in advance what the accessibility needs are for your participants
  • for persons with visual impairment, relyign on the visualisation of post-its can be insufficient. an easy way to mitigate, is to make sure the facilitators reads clearly everything which is written. 
  • for persons with hearing impairment , you may need someone to summarise the points made verbally in a chat room and give them space to answer.
  • for persons with intellectual impairment, and this can be costly unfortunately, having a good illustrator has proven very helpful and successful.

Hope this helps. Thank you for sharing!


Comment by Barbara Klugman on April 2, 2020 at 12:53

Hi Michaela, thanks for this. I'm busy looking for affordable and effective online workshop platforms and one I bumped into is : which is literally only post-its that you can move around on a cork board, change their colours etc., so it's possible that you could do what you described above, but all online using that board, ASSUMING that everyone has strong enough bandwith that they can have video on ...anyway, i've not yet used it so am just sharing it as a thought....   Yours,


Comment by Michaela Raab on March 27, 2020 at 12:44

Hello Rituu, 

Thank you for the excellent questions! The workshop as such took about two hours and a half. This worked because the participants in the room were fully aware of sharing the virtual space with those outside of the room, and kept their interventions brief. We also had the impression that all - or most - participants had studied the draft ToC before the workshop.

One aspect I did not mention in my post was the technical one. The organisation that hosted the meeting had appointed a staff member to set up the call. We (the external facilitators) assumed we did not need to brief him on technicalities. He turned out to be unfamiliar with conference calling, and someone's contact details were missing. We ended up starting 10 minutes late. Learning point: Next time we will gently remind the hosts of testing the platform beforehand, making sure everybody's contact details are clear, and setting up the audio/video conference a few minutes before its official start time.    

Comment by Rituu B Nanda on March 27, 2020 at 0:05

I enjoyed reading it. How much time did it take? What will you do differently next time?

Many thanks for taking out time to share your experience. Very valuable and a gift to the community. We are fortunate.

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