Understanding the Theory of Change (ToC) and Theory of Action (ToA)

By July 2, 2019 September 11th, 2019 1,873 Comments
theory of change demonstration

In its intricacies, a key to program evaluation is the application of a logic model that must be thoroughly applied to assess degrees of social impact and/or change. The idea is to apply theory to actualize and implement real change at the ground level. The program theory, responsible for trying to map out what any given program does at current, contains two parts. These parts are the theory of change (ToC) and the theory of action (ToA).

Theory of Change vs. Theory of Action

The ToC focuses on the dynamics of change and the drivers through which change comes about, irrespective of any planned intervention. Simply put, ToC answers why you expect change to happen and, through a series of ‘If, then’ statements, how and why change occurs.

The ToA displays how interventions are constructed to activate the ToC. This operationalization of the ToC illustrates what the program does, how this triggers the change process and identifies critical assumptions.

The final analysis of the ToA will either show support for the current program functionality or identify key gaps that are of a hindrance to the program functionality. This specific action plan mobilizes the ‘If, then’ statements.

The Logic Model

This two-fold program theory is then applied to the standard framework. The logic model is made up of five parts.

1. Inputs

The logic model first begins with the identification of inputs—resources that must be compiled to execute the activities that are to follow, in an ultimate effort to get the program kick-started. Some examples of inputs might be partnerships or funding that will be used for stipends.

2. Activities

Secondly, activities are actions that lead to the desired change, specifically the process that a beneficiary goes through. This might look like workshops, training, and/or services.

3. Outputs

Outputs are immediate, tangible products of the activities. They are usually listed as a series of ideal products that are a reflection of how the program gets rolled out. An example could be the number of learners enrolled in an after-school program.

4. Outcomes

Outcomes, which are easily confused with outputs, are desired, intangible results or rather, what you want your beneficiaries to go out into the world and actualize—improvement in behaviours or beliefs, for example. These outcomes are usually presented as a triumvirate—short term, medium term, and long term.

Unintended outcomes are also important to identify at this stage, as they are often a reflection of blind spots that weren’t accounted for in the key stages of creating the program’s blueprint.

5. Impact

Lastly, the impact is a macro level reflection of an ultimate goal that the program seeks to achieve at the ground level. Such impacts are an attempt to affect systemic change like alleviating poverty or reducing unemployment.

Where possible, Development Works Changemakers will produce a ToC and ToA as part of the evaluation process, when undertaking a program evaluation. This process usually involves a series of interactive workshops with key programme stakeholders at the onset of an evaluation.

By Malanna Wheat