Theory of Change

Getting clear and precise about what your program entails and how you hope to make a difference


The IDEAS Approach to Theory of Change

A ToC is a detailed set of beliefs or hypotheses about specific changes that you expect to result from your program.

Many interventions fail to explain the reasons and ways a program works or doesn’t—a carefully articulated ToC addresses this issue.

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Reflection Question

Have you had any experience developing or using a theory of change? If so, what worked well? What was challenging?

The IDEAS Impact Framework approach to ToC utilizes an efficient, flexible template designed to facilitate precision and fast-cycle iteration by pinpointing why, how, and for whom a program works or doesn’t work.

It facilitates co-creation by providing a simple, flexible tool that enables teams of diverse collaborators to come together to draft a ToC. And, the Framework’s straightforward and consistent template enables shared learning.

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Did You Know?

There are many ways to create a ToC, each serving a different purpose. The form and content of ToCs vary widely. There is a tendency to create complex ToCs, including numerous constructs and causal relationships. Although complex ToCs capture a lot of information, they aren’t necessarily precise and don’t readily facilitate ongoing learning and development efforts

Four Domains

The four domains of the IDEAS Impact Framework ToC template are strategies, targets, outcomes, and moderators.

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In short, a ToC details how a program’s specific strategies lead to changes in targets that are expected to produce real-world impacts on particular outcomes.

Each domain—strategies, targets, outcomes, and moderators—should be precisely defined and measurable. One way to think about your ToC is like a chain of dominoes. Strategies are the actions your program takes to set off a chain of cause and effect that leads to the ultimate outcomes.

Click here to download a set of examples shared by teams who have used the IDEAS Impact Framework in the context of their work.

Download a library of ToC examples from organizations that have used the Framework