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The Innovation Process
Activity 5.1 A

Develop a Theory of Change

This activity will help you to develop a systems-view of how you believe your solution will contribute to change.

Theory of Change

One way your team and your stakeholders can increase the likelihood of success is to clearly articulate a Theory of Change (ToC). Innovation then proceeds “more as a process of discovery than one of implementation, in which the innovating team collects further information in order to iteratively develop the solution and learn more about the problem or performance area as they progress” (Elrha & ALNAP, 2016)

According to the Center for Theory of Change, “a Theory of Change is essentially a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or ‘filling in’ what has been described as the ‘missing middle’ between what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved. It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works back from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another causally) for the goals to occur.”

The more stakeholders you can involve in developing a Theory of Change, the more you can get a shared understanding of why and how you think your innovation will help solve the problem you are seeking to address. Theories of change can be developed in a number of different ways. At one extreme they can just be a pictorial illustration of all the key components of change, with little, if any, description of expected causal links. At the other extreme, they can look very similar to a log frame: rigid, hierarchical and heavily focused on causality.

Our recommendation is to develop a Theory of Change that has a logic that can be tested in the real world, but avoids being too rigid. The Center for Theory of Change identifies the following steps in building your Theory of Change:

  1. Identify long-term goals
  2. Working backwards, map and connect the preconditions or requirements necessary to achieve your goals and explain why these preconditions are necessary and sufficient.
  3. Identify your basic assumptions about the context.
  4. Identify the interventions that your initiative will perform to create your desired change.
  5. Develop indicators to measure your outcomes in order to assess the performance of your initiative.
  6. Write a narrative to explain the logic of your initiative.

A Theory of Change can be an important part of monitoring an innovation process (Elrha & ALNAP, 2016) as it helps innovation teams to make necessary adjustments or pivots early on. The Theory of Change for Project Superwoman is a great example of one that is comprehensive without being too rigid.