In Part 1 of this series, I explained what a Theory of Change is and why it can be useful for changes on a personal and organizational level. In this post, Iâ€™ll explain how to create a theory of change, using the following format:
For this example, letâ€™s say that I am overweight and out of shape. I want to improve my health, so I decide to construct a theory of change and action plan that will help me in that process.
Step 1: Desired Change Assumptions. In this step I look at all of the underlying causes of my less-than-stellar health and why I think I got that way. For this example, Iâ€™ll say that I want to change because I havenâ€™t been feeling well and I want more energy. The underlying causes of my health problems are poor eating habits and a lack of exercise. Ideally, I would like to be fit enough to run in a 5k and want to eat at least 5 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day.
Step 2: Actions. This is the traditional action planning step that most of us are familiar with. In this step Iâ€™ll brainstorm all of the things I need to achieve my desired outcome. Because I think I need more exercise, I decide that Iâ€™ll join a gym and work with a trainer. I also need to learn more about nutrition, so Iâ€™ll go to the library and research good eating habits. In working with my trainer, we come up with a 5 times per week workout plan and an eating schedule of 5 small meals per day. Iâ€™ll continue in this plan for 3 months.
Step 3: Results & Reflection. Some changes can take place quickly, but many are an ongoing process â€“ such as my health improvement example. When this is the case, itâ€™s helpful to pause occasionally and assess the progress that youâ€™ve made so far. Then you can determine if you want to continue doing the same actions, take a break, or rework your assumptions and actions for better results. After my 3 months of improved diet and exercise, Iâ€™ll assess my fitness by running in a 5k race. Iâ€™ll review my food logs to see if Iâ€™ve been eating better. Then I will decide if I want to work toward more improvement or come up with a maintenance plan.
The real power of a Theory of Change is that it forces you to examine the assumptions behind your thinking. My example is a pretty simple one, but in a more complex situation, this 1st step is very helpful. It is also a continuous improvement type of process that requires evaluation and at least thinking about ways to make your processes and plans better.