Theory of change

Theory of change (ToC) refers to the central mechanisms of how change comes about for individuals, groups and communities (Funnel & Rogers, 2011). It explains the links between activities and outcomes and how and why the desired change is expected to occur, based on past research or experiences (W.K.Kellogg Foundation, 2017). The theory of change focuses on complex social, economic, political and institutional processes that underlie social and societal change.

It is possible to have more than one theory of change at different stages of the program or in relation to different groups of people. For example, you might have one theory of change about how participants become engaged with a project or initiative and another about how participants behaviour changes in response to the project or initiative. The development of a ToC often occurs in a participatory process to clearly define desired outcomes and to air and challenge assumptions.

An example Theory of Change

This example theory of change was developed by the Preventing Violence Together (PVT) Partnership as part of shared measurement work to monitor and evaluate progress against the PVT strategic plan. A clearer picture of the theory of change can be found on the last page of the Shared Measurement and Evaluation Framework.


Theory of Action

This is the operationalisation model of the theory of change. It helps to describe how the program is designed and set up to 'activate' the theory of change (Coffey, 2018).

The Theory of Action explains the activities that will be undertaken and what level of success the activities will need to achieve to affect the theory of change.