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Theory of Change

Brief Description

Theory of Change helps organizations ask simple but important questions about what they are doing and why. It leads to more common understanding and clarity about their approach, and can strengthen partnerships, support organizational development, and facilitate communication. At its heart, a theory of change spells out program logic. It defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify changes that need to happen earlier and/or at other levels (preconditions); and the interventions that will cause each change to happen, making explicit the rationales behind them. The identified changes are mapped graphically in causal pathways of outcomes, showing each outcome in logical relationship to all the others. Interventions—program activities—are mapped to the framework to show what proponents think it will take to cause the changes, and when. A theory of change articulates testable hypotheses about how change will occur and what it will look like. It reveals the assumptions about what actions will best bring about the outcomes in the model. A Theory of Change identifies measurable indicators of success as a roadmap to monitoring and evaluation. Theory of Change is a foundation for strategic planning, communication to partners and funders, credible and relevant evaluation, instilling ownership of the initiative among all stakeholders, and building organizational capacity.


Weiss popularized the term “Theory of Change” as a way to describe the set of assumptions that explain both the mini-steps that lead to the long-term goal and the connections between program activities and outcomes that occur at each step of the way. Since the publication of Weiss’s book, the use of planning and evaluation using theories of change has increased exponentially among philanthropies, government agencies, international NGOs, the UN and many other major organizations in both developed and developing countries.

**When to Use**

Theory of Change can be entered at any point in the cycle of goal-setting, planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and recalibrating. Specific uses of Theory of Change include:

  • To reflect on purposes and means, and to challenge one another's assumptions about what it will take to bring change
  • To set goals and plan an initiative or program
  • To work out the causal links between interventions and program outcomes
  • To delineate partnership boundaries, shared responsibilities,
  • To plan for organizational resourcing and capacities
  • For monitoring and evaluation
  • To communicate purposes and means to funders, partners, and other actors.

How to use

More information on all aspects of Theory of Change as a process and as a product, visit

Software Tool

Theory of Change Online (TOCO). TOCO is a collaborative web-based software tool anyone can use free of charge to map out their theories of change. Visit Find: “TOCO Software” then “Access the free version here.” Register as instructed, look for activation email (disable popup blocker if you don't receive the email.) Log onto TOCO and start creating your theory of change.


Dana Taplin, ActKnowledge

theory_of_change.txt · Last modified: 2018/07/08 15:21 (external edit)