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A Theory of Change is More than a Diagram!

Trees. Houses. Animals.

These are just some of the graphics that I have come across to visualise Theories of Change (TOC). I am the first to admit that creatively depicting the thinking behind how a particular intervention (be it a programme, project, policy etc.) will bring about specific changes is far more interesting than a set of arrows and squares.

However, it is important to remember that the diagram is just the visualisation of the TOC. Ideally, every TOC should be accompanied by a narrative that gives further details on the rationale, assumptions, risks and justifications underlying the intervention. Developing a TOC is not simply a matter of filling in boxes in a results chain or producing a fancy image. The TOC adequately represents what the intervention intends to achieve and how. See my other blog post for a summary on the components of a TOC.

Some organisations focus so much on the visualisation, cramming in every detail, that they end up with a complicated diagram which makes it difficult to get a coherent view of the causal processes. On the other hand, the graphic may be too simplistic with the omission of details on the contextual influences (e.g. policy framework) which may enable or inhibit the change the intervention hopes to bring about (Rogers, 2014).

In sum, while a nice aesthetic for the visualisation of the TOC is good, do bear the foregoing in mind. The graphic for the TOC should be balanced; not overly complicated nor too simple. Ready to design your TOC? Check out a list of the different software for visualising your ToCs here.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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