Create Your Theory of Change – Method 1

We present two methods for constructing a theory of change, you can start with the one you have the most affinity with. The first method, described below, may give the impression that a theory of change proceeds in a linear fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth! But a model often has to compromise on completeness in order to remain clear and manageable.

You best learn how to draw up a theory of change by doing it. We recommend getting started as soon as possible. The steps to be followed are described below the figure. A template on which you can work can be found here, you can print the part 1 and part 2 in landscape and put them next to each other


The following points give you guideline for an exercise:

STEP 1: Create a clear picture of the desired impact based on the impact question

  • Who is the target group? What is changing for them?
  • What is the context/society? How is it changing?
  • Who are the stakeholders? What is the effect on them?
  • Are there other impacts you see happening?

STEP 2: Translate this impact picture into long, medium and short term effects.

STEP 3: Map out the context and challenges.

  • Make an analysis of the social problem you want to tackle and of the target group. Backing it up with figures makes it even stronger.

STEP 4: Determine the interventions that will be carried out to obtain the effects, and what outputs are being pursued. List the means by which this will be achieved (inputs).

  • Make an inventory of current interventions.
  • Brainstorm about other options, and/or modifications to the current interventions.
  • Choose the most appropriate and/or feasible solution for the organization.
  • Determine which outputs want to be achieved.
  • Estimate time, money, and other resources needed.

STEP 5: Express the active ingredients of the interventions.

  • Interview staff who have the necessary expertise.
  • Consult professional literature and scientific research.

STEP 6: Determine the assumptions and preconditions.

  • Determine what assumptions are in the theory of change.
  • Determine what preconditions and preconditions are needed to realize the outcomes.

STEP 7: Write a narrative impact story

  • Writing a narrative is in fact nothing more than putting all the steps of the theory of change into language.

Questions to Help You Make Your Assumptions Explicit

  • What am I assuming about the cause and effect relationships between my different levels of effects? If X happens, will Z really happen? Why? Under which conditions would it work?
  • On the basis of what evidence, knowledge, experiences or impressions am I making my assumptions? Do I have evidence that my assumptions are true? It is helpful to reference past projects, evaluations, best practices and research that demonstrates the success of the strategies that led to the desired result and why you expect similar outcomes in this project.
  • What am I assuming about the needs, capacities, motivation and behaviour of stakeholders?
  • What am I assuming about the relationships between key actors?

Example ATK

ATK is an organization based in Antwerp (Belgium) that fights poverty and uses buddies for that purpose. We are allowed to read along with their theory of change.

The video below takes you through an applied view of the theory of change.