What is Theory of Change?

ToC is a relatively new concept that helps to define how a programme or intervention will achieve the desired result. It involves a careful examination of each step in the process and of the evidence supporting its effectiveness. It can be a useful indicator of how well an organisation has considered the implications of its activities. The absence of one may indicate a lack of rigour in the organisation.

A ToC usually starts by considering:

  • the Outcomes that you are seeking and these should be quite specific,
  • the Outputs that will be needed to achieve this,
  • the Inputs required to make the outputs happen


Let’s assume that the main objective is to improve the life chances of children by ensuring they are better educated. Following a consultation with all of the stakeholders (especially the locals) you would list all of the factors that could contribute to the objective, such as:

  • increasing the number of pupils attending, especially in the final years
  • improving the quality of teaching
  • improving the facilities


That would lead to an action plan of Inputs, which might look like this:

  • build three new classrooms over the next four years,
  • pay for additional teachers commencing in two years,
  • build a dormitory for girls in the second year
  • collect rain water to supply freshwater,
  • Install solar panels and satellite aerial to provide internet access
  • plant trees to provide shade.


From this plan, budgeted costs can be established together with key indicators of progress. In the short run those indicators are likely to be mainly the outputs but as times goes by they will be replaced by outcomes such as final year pupil numbers and exam results.

If you are interested in learning more about Theory of Change there is a considerable amount of useful content at: The Center for Theory of Change and it’s also worth reading Creating your Theory of Change by NPC.