Theory of Change

Theory of Change is an approach to planning and evaluating activities, projects, services or communities of service to deliver identified long-term changes, or outcomes. The approach involves the identification of desired outcomes, and utilitses a ‘backwards planning’ approach to map the intermediate outcomes and activities, or interventions, required to deliver these long term changes. the approach can be used by organisations that deliver change, as well as service commisioners.

The Theory of Change process involves 5 stages:

  • Identify long term outcomes desired, and articulate the assumptions associated with these outcomes
  • Use ‘backwards mapping’ technique to understand the pathway to change – what are the neccessary intermediate outcomes to be achieved to deliver these?
  • Develop indicators for outcomes so that progress toward long-term outcomes can be measured and evidenced
  • Identify interventions, or activities, required to deliver the identified outcomes
  • Write a narrative account of the ‘theory of change’.


The process generates a visual map of the relationships between interventions, outcomes and long-term outcomes; and articulates all assumptions about how interventions will generate the desired outcomes. Articulating these assumptions means that they can be tested, and where no causal relationship can be evidenced, more appropriate interventions, or pathways to change, considered.

Theory of Change provides a framework for evaluating social impact, by making explicit the relationships between activities and desired outcomes, and by describing the ‘chain of events’ that relates one outcome to another. Data is collected from stakeholders in a consistent way against the outcomes indicators identified during the process, enabling the progress of the pathway to change to be assessed and reported at suitable points.

Strong similarities exsist between Theory of Change ‘backward mapping’ and Logic Modelling, as well as with the impact mapping technique used in SROI and stakeholder mapping used in Social Accounting and Audit.

Further detailed information on Theory of Change is available from the Theory of Change Community website.