So my head and heart are still spinning from my experience at Web of Change. So many incredible ideas, and perhaps more importantly, a really deep, integrated sense of the network of good people doing amazing things in the world. Our focus on generating “alignment” inside CivicActions has already taught me to see (and feel) alignment and let me tell you, speaking as an activist and someone who wants to change the world, there’s nothing more exciting and powerful than that feeling – feeling aligned with a bunch of talented people… Mm!
One of the concepts that was brought to my consciousness (something I didn’t know I didn’t know before going to WOC) was the Theory of Change construct.
A Theory of Change is defined by www.theoryofchange.org as, well, I’ll let them tell you.
As we define it, a Theory of Change defines all building blocks required to bring about a given long-term goal. This set of connected building blocks–interchangeably referred to as outcomes, results, accomplishments, or preconditions ·is depicted on a map known as a pathway of change/change framework, which is a graphic representation of the change process.
I think the graphic representation is helpful, but what’s most important is the understanding of the connection between effort and desired impact. This is somewhat different that a Logic Model in that as a Theory it implies, among other things, being measured and tested, and therefore something more tangible than a flow chart. I really think it is far more than a simple semantic difference.
Be that as it may, every organization spending any amount of donor dollars must positively and absolutely (in my humble opinion) have a Theory of Change that describes the specific outcomes of any activity they undertake as they relate to the preconditions required for social change.
This is far beyond an operational strategy for raising money to keep the doors open and seats warm in an organization. This is the structure that depicts how an organization is PLANNING to go about actually creating meaningful social change. Without a Theory of Change that looks at the desired outcomes, the required conditions and the role of the organization in creating those conditions, any strategy conversation is pretty meaningless, at least as far as actual changemaking is concerned. I don’t think a Theory of Change is required to operate a business, but I do think it absolutely is required to align limited resources and use them to maximum effectiveness and impact. And that ought to be the operating principle of any nonprofit.
We will be developing and publishing CivicAction’s Theory of Change soon. I’m excited about collaborating on this with the CA team, and publishing it. I want everyone to know how we see ourselves fitting into the movement we’re all trying to propel. As soon as we have our own defined, we will be insisting every organization we accept engagements with have a Theory of Change. We want (and need) to get the big picture of how our services map to the intended outcomes. This is especially critical in a technology environment that is revolutionizing itself every couple of years. It may be that the technology strategy our clients have developed in the last year won’t be applicable or recommended next year. Having the context of an organization’s Theory of Change will help us be of maximal service to our clients.
At the same time, it is striking to me that we as individuals ought to have our own personal Theory of Change for our lives as activists and concerned citizen as well. How is what we are doing aligned with the changes we want to see in the world? How can this effort be measured and assumptions tested?
I’m curious to hear your Theory of Change. Post in the comments.