Change Advancing Theory
The Theory of Change (ToC) is a design methodology that helps project teams develop a comprehensive project description that highlights and illustrates how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular social context. The Toc focuses on mapping out or highlighting the project's outputs or what the intuitive intends on doing (activities or interventions), and how these outputs will lead to the desired goals being achieved.
By identifying the project's long-term goals, and then working backwards in identifying the conditions (or outcomes) required (as well as their relationship to one another) for a project to achieve its desired goals. These are all clearly mapped out in an Outcomes Framework.
The Outcomes Framework (OF) is a design tool commonly used in ToC, the OF provides a framework for identifying types of activities or interventions needed to achieve the outcomes (identified as preconditions) of the intended goal. A key tenant of this approach is how the projected activities are illuminated and linked to a deeper understanding of how the long-term goals will be achieved.
By adopting a ToC approach to working on social projects we can ensure that projects are better panned, in practise, this means that all the intended activities are closely linked to outputs and that there is a detailed understanding of how this leads to the overall long-term project goals, or the intended change that the project hopes to achieve.
Another major benefit of adopting a ToC model is that it helps provide a basis for measuring the success of processes and how they may lead towards the achievement of longer-term goals.
Applying ToC to the Evictions Problem
When working on social impact projects such as the EPG, adopting the ToC methodology helped us in two distinct ways;
- Clearly articulate and connect outputs with bigger project goals, whilst still allowing room for iteration and pivoting of ideas.
- Analyse potential risks through the exploration of underlying assumptions at each step.
In short, using ToC helps determine whether the project's output is contributing towards the overall mission of the project, and explores alternative methods of achieving the desired goal.
In the words of EGP Product Owner, Shaun Russell where he discussed the benefits of using the ToC when designing and implementing the EGP.
“In the EGP using the ToC assisted us in developing a comprehensive outline of what we planned to achieve and how the various outputs will help users meet their goals.”
The first intended project output was to implement the eviction guide (the central tool of the EGP) as a way to equip and empower residents with the knowledge and tools needed to contest their eviction.
From this change our underlying assumption was that residents (empowered with information) would be better equipped to play a more active role in their own eviction process — therefore becoming agents of their own change. By making these assumptions we were able to test them against research collected from the project to see if we were reaching our intended goal.
Theory, Then Change
By adopting the ToC approach we were able to deeply explore the processes that lead to change. This allowed for the members to be able to think critically about various aspects of design and evaluation of the project.
A Somewhat Agile theory
Designing projects using a ToC methodology has proven valuable when used alongside Agile Project Management techniques as its flexible nature allows for constant iteration and building on important project assumptions. In ToC Project outputs are viewed as amenable and should constantly evolve to incorporate new knowledge, learnings, and assumptions, either intended or unintended, through implementation of the project.
Using a ToC methodology when working on the EGP has proven valuable as it allows the team to test their hypotheses and assumptions with data directly collected through the project.
When looking at the EPG through a ToC framework it becomes clear how interconnected the different areas of the project are. The framework or roadmap of the project is vital for outlining the steps that need to be taken for the project to move forward.
Through the incorporation of technology into the workflow, various organisations working in evictions will be able to benefit from the versatility and functionality of having a digital evictions guide. This incorporation of the tool can help as more data can be collected thus bolstering eviction advocacy arguments going forward.
Our role is not to take-on these social projects alone, but rather to provide organisations already working in this domain with insights and technology that can enhance their capacity to deal with the issues at hand.
Evaluation and Material Changes
The ToC lends itself well as a civic tech design tool as it allows full (seamless) adaptability, and in turn the progression of projects and products that is not seen in other more rigid design frameworks.
Since embarking on a new journey in the eviction.org.za life-cycle, we have been quick to make changes based on direct feedback from our users (this includes adding new relevant information and making changes to existing features).
This shows how the digital make-up of the Evictions guide compliments the ToC model as its digital nature allows for it to be easily adapted to meet user needs rather than project outputs.
Previously stringent logical frameworks were necessary with the rollout of various social innovations due to the rigidness of the project itself. For example, if the project involved the rollout of a high volume of physical products that required the involvement of multiple parties all working on specific timelines, a more rigid logistics focused framework may be needed.
Accessing Domain Experts
When using the ToC model, it is imperative that in-depth research is done into the context that the intervention is being implemented in. The purpose of this is to gain an understanding of the social, political, and environmental factors that may influence its success or failure.
This once again shows the valuable nature of the ToC in programme implementation as it allows for flexibility when it comes to User Research and Usability Testing.
In our case it allowed us to creatively explore ways that a stand-alone digital guide can be used to enhance the workflow of various organisations working on evictions and then pivoting certain aspects of products in order to engage better with the project's desired purpose.
Impact of using the ToC
The ToC model has been impactful in that it helped provide meaningful structure to the outcomes of the project, in that it helped clearly define how each output impacts on the intended outcomes relating to the overall long-term goal of the project. Another important feature of the ToC modality is its ability to be flexible in how it tests assumptions, and the ability to make swift changes based on findings.
Due to the complex nature of the issues involved in the eviction process, it was important to use a methodology that allowed the team flexibility in their ability to plan and implement project outputs, but also that would allow for tool iteration and the pivoting of project focuses.
Using a ToC model was useful in that it helped focus not only on the outputs and outcomes of the project, but also whether the project was serving the purpose of creating the change it was intended or assumed to. This shows how the implementation of the ToC model can help ensure that social innovations are not superficial in terms of their outputs and that they are creating the desired social impact.
Center for Theory of Change. “What Is Theory of Change? | Theory of Change Community.” Theory of Change Community, 2011, www.theoryofchange.org/what-is-theory-of-change/.