What is theory of change in monitoring and evaluation
What is theory of change in monitoring and evaluation

What is theory of change in monitoring and evaluation? A theory of change is model which describes how an intervention will deliver the planned results. A causal/result chain (or logical framework) outlines how the sequence of inputs, project management activities and outputs of a program will attain specific outcomes (objectives). This in turn will contribute to the achievement of the overall aim. Theory of change is a causal chain which maps out the following:

  • (i) inputs for a project (financial, human and other resources);
  • (ii) activities of a project (actions or work performed to translate inputs into outputs);
  • (iii) outputs (goods produced and services delivered);
  • (iv) outcomes (use of outputs by the target groups);
  • (v) Results (or final, long-term outcome of the intervention).

What does a Theory of Change look like?

What is theory of change in monitoring and evaluation? A Theory of Change is mostly a diagram that presents an easy-to-understand vision of how the desired results will be achieved. It is usually represented in a diagram or visualization with an accompanying explanatory description (narrative). The visualization is your ‘pathway of change’ and provides a clear overview of the different steps of a project, from problem to end-goal.

The narrative describes the logic or theory underlying the project. This includes the problem statement, context, results, choice of activities, cause-effect relations and the underlying assumptions.

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A Theory of Change (ToC) of a project describes why change is needed and how it will happen. In simple terms, this involves identifying how you would like the current situation related to an identified problem to change, and how you think you can help that change to come about through your project.

Defining a Theory of Change for your project helps you to ensure that your inputs and activities lead to tangible results that add up to the desired change. Every project is packed with beliefs, assumptions and hypotheses about how change happens – about the way humans work, or organizations, or political systems, or eco-systems. Theory of Change is therefore also about articulating these many underlying assumptions about how change will happen in a project.

Result based monitoring and evaluation the theory of change.

Theory of change helps the monitoring system to properly continuously track and do the following:

  • (i) the resources invested in/used by the program;
  • (ii) the implementation of activities in the planned timeframe;
  • (iii) the delivery of goods and services. A performance evaluation would, at a
  • specific point of time, judge the inputs-outputs relationship and the immediate outcomes. An impact evaluation would provide evidence on whether the changes observed were caused by the intervention and by this alone.

Theory of Change (ToC) in planning, monitoring and evaluation

Developing and using a ToC helps in planning and designing interventions, and in monitoring the project. A ToC forms the basis for developing the monitoring framework, as it requires you to clearly articulate how your activities are expected to lead to outputs, outcomes, and eventually impact. The changes to which you expect to contribute are formulated as the outcomes and outputs in your ToC.

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A technically sound Theory of Change relies on adequate research and acquiring the knowledge and perspectives on how change happens in a specific country context. It also relies on expert opinion and perspectives about what is likely to work. A sound process implies that there are opportunities for key stakeholders to participate in the development of the Theory of Change.

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The more specific these are formulated, the easier it will be to identify meaningful indicators to monitor these changes. By making explicit how you expect you will achieve your aspired results, you will be able to steer and adapt your project where necessary and get a better insight on what works and doesn’t work. This is particularly important in complex contexts, where risks related to disaster, climate change, socioeconomic instability or conflict are high.

Key points to develop the theory of change for your project

These are steps you will need to create a diagram that visualizes your project theory of change. This visualization can be included in the project plan . Theory of Change Visualization’. For an example, please see the diagram below showing theory of change.

Key points to develop the theory of change for your project
  • Step 1. Define the problem, including the identified root causes and stakeholders.
  • Step 2. Define the desired end-goal (impact).
  • Step 3. Define long- and short-term results (outcomes and outputs) needed to
  • achieve the desired end-goal.
  • Step 4. Map activities that could lead to the short- and long-term results.
  • Step 5. Identify the main assumptions; how valid or uncertain are they?
  • Theory of Change Narrative:
  • Step 6. This is the final step for you to describe your visualization in a narrative in order to capture what you have done and to relate to later on. You can include your narrative by following the guiding questions in the project plan which the project manager or stakeholders have provided you with.

Theory of Change: Steps to create a theory of change.

The Theory of Change model uses ‘backwards mapping’ for projection of results. After identifying your problem within a project, backwards mapping requires managers to think backwards, analyze and outline the desired end-goal, to the long- and short-term results that are needed to make the change happen for the success of a project. Theory of change helps you to define process which shows the logical connections between the different levels of results and project activities.

Step 1. Define the problem, including the identified root causes and stakeholders

What is the problem that you want to address? Who are you aiming to support (i.e. who is the target
group)? What is the scope of the problem? What are the identified root causes (e.g. lack of knowledge
on responsible practices, poor governance, no access to markets, etc.)? Who are the main

Step 2. Define the desired end-goal (impact)

What is the end-goal (impact) that you want to contribute to? What needs to be changed in order to
solve the problem that you defined? When will your project considered to be a success? Who should
benefit from the end-goal?

Step 3. Define outcome and output results needed to achieve the desired end-goal (impact)

After you have defined the problem and end-goal, you can define the long-term (outcome) and short-term (output) results that you need to achieve before you can achieve your end-goal. I.e. formulate what needs to change in order to achieve your end-goal. Who and what can you influence in order to achieve change? It is also possible that results are interlinked (e.g. result X strengthens result Y).

Step 4. Map activities that could lead to the short- and long-term results

Once you formulated the different short- and long-term results you need to achieve, you can start defining the activities that are needed to achieve these results. Sometimes it helps to go back- and forth between the results and the activities, until you find a logic pathway.

Step 5. Identify the main assumptions; how valid or uncertain are they?

Your ToC will consist of many assumptions. There are four types of assumptions: Assumptions about the causal links between outcomes at different levels. E.g. educational activities on responsible mining will change the actual practices of miners and will contribute to increasing market access. World view assumptions about drivers behind a change. E.g. responsible mining practices are positively affecting the situation for miners and mining communities.

Assumptions about the belief systems in a society, which inform judgments about what is
appropriate and feasible in a specific context. E.g. women are accepted to work in and around mines. Assumptions about the context in which your project will operate E.g. What is theory of change in monitoring and evaluation, this helps local government to come up with a supportive process in improving practices and structures within government.

Step 6. Write a narrative

Summaries the visualization in a narrative. Describe the different ‘pathways’ of how your input and activities will lead to your results. Describe the context in which your project will take place, including the relation with other relevant initiatives in the region. Your narrative can be described by following the guiding questions as described in the project plan.

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