Creating a Theory of Change

A Theory of Change (ToC) is a powerful tool that helps organisations and initiatives plan how they will create change, assess their effectiveness and communicate to stakeholders. Growing in popularity over the last decade, it is now used widely by charities, social enterprises, the public sector and gradually even by mainstream businesses who are recognising its potential.

A ToC is normally depicted as a map, or a journey, linking the activities of a programme, intervention or organisation to the short-term, medium-term and long-term outcomes experienced by stakeholders.  It is a living diagram and narrative that should be updated as the work of the organisation changes.

Using qualitative approaches to gain an intimate understanding of how an intervention impacts on the lives of those affected leads to better quantitative analysis and modelling at later stages of an SROI analysis. Before you can start to value, you need data on outcomes; and before you collect data on outcomes, you need to make sure you are measuring the appropriate outcomes. A strong Theory of Change helps make SROI modelling easier, communicating potential impact considerations such as deadweight and attribution.

Our next open training workshop is in London, 7 March. Click here to book.

We can also run the workshop for groups on a date that suits you at our London offices or on site. It can be tailored to suit your needs. Minimum costs apply – contact us today for details.

Creating a Theory of Change

One-day workshop

NEF has developed proven templates to run storyboard exercises in workshops and focus groups in a range of settings, gathering data directly from service users. NEF Consulting has constructed theories of change for a range of programmes. We have found that the best evaluations, including SROIs, are underpinned by strong theories of change developed early in the research process, so would recommend this course to anyone starting a new social impact project.

During the day we explore what a theory of change is, how to construct one and best practice in conducting robust qualitative research.

Topics covered include

  • The big picture: theory of change and its role in strategic planning and evaluation.
  • Talking in outcomes: theory of change and other impact formats
  • Collecting theory of change data: engaging with stakeholders
  • Using the theory of change framework
  • Next steps: planning, verifying and communicating findings.


What you will learn

By the end of the course you will:

  • Be able to describe a theory of change and when it is appropriate to use it.
  • Understand what an outcome is and describe the similarities and differences between a theory of change and a logic model or impact map.
  • Feel able to design a process and discussion guide for engaging with stakeholders.
  • Feel confident using the component parts of a theory of change and to communicate their strategic value.
  • Find a personal approach to visualising and describing a theory of change.
  • Plan for how you will test and communicate your theory of change.

What some of the participants have highlighted as ‘one big thing they’ll take back’ from the workshop, in their own words:

“Use of ToC for strategic decision making.”
“Confidence in developing theory of change with my own team.”
“How to map out the change we intend to make, create visual representation.”
“The framework! It is holistic and different/more complete than others I have come across.”
“The practical development of ToC. Going through the process really helped.”
“That it’s a messy, iterative process and not to panic.”
“How to take a structured approach to developing ToC.”
“Ensuring engagement of key stakeholders and the importance of co-production and validation.”
“Theory of Change is dynamic.”
“NEF’s take on TOC was really helpful in highlighting that every TOC process and exercise has to be tailored to unique circumstances.”
“I better understand how to map outcomes and the importance of including awareness of potential negative outcomes.”

Who should attend

Anyone looking to bring the strategic lens of theory of change to their planning or evaluation. If you have a project in mind, the course will offer the opportunity to map out your theory and gain feedback.

Who will be running the workshop?

Elizabeth Cox,  Associate Director, NEF Consulting

Elizabeth Cox is an experienced economist who has led the New Economics Foundation’s UK and international research on localities and local economies over 13 years, and has now taken up a position with NEF Consulting as Associate Director.

Her work ranges from developing learning-based programmes around sustainability, supporting communities to develop community economic development plans, working with project teams to develop theories of change, to developing impact frameworks for social impact investors and social businesses, and research design.

Dates and venue

Forthcoming courses :

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Prices for courses for 2019

Standard price                                £295  

Registered charity price               £245  

*All courses are subject to U.K. VAT

Fee includes refreshments and lunch as well as training materials.

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We can also run the workshop for groups on a date that suits you at our London offices or on site. It can be tailored to suit your needs. Minimum costs apply – contact us today for details.

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