Theory of Change – the Starting Point for Impact Measurement

In our work, we like to develop impact measurements from a fully articulated theory of change (ToC). Our clients, however, have approached us to show them how to measure something accurately and rigorously, and sometimes are unsure why we first need to spend the time talking to them about causal mechanisms, context and their long-term goal. And would prefer it if we went straight to the end and told them how to measure wellbeing, employability etc.

If you are thinking of improving your social impact measurement, here are 5 reasons to start with a theory of change:

  1. It identifies what is to be evaluated. Organisations are not always sure what of their many services is in scope for social impact measurement and the ToC helps them to set the boundaries on what they will and will not take responsibility to measure.
  2. It makes complexity understandable. Some charities and social enterprises are complex and deliver many different projects, in different ways, for different funders. A current client of ours has 26 unique projects. It can seem impossible to identify common threads and common measurement requirements, but the ToC helps our clients to see the wood for the trees and understand meaningful impact measurement is possible.
  3. It reminds you of what you’re trying to achieve. During day-to-day operations, it is easy to forget what your organisation is trying to achieve. The ToC brings the long-term aim front and centre and puts the pieces together to show how that is achieved.
  4. It tells a compelling story. The ToC describes how impact measurement data can be used to tell a compelling story for how you contribute to your long-term outcomes. By identifying your short term outcomes – those achieved during an intervention – and your end of programme outcomes, the ToC shows you how to use your data to evidence your impact in a compelling and persuasive way.
  5. It can tell you something you don’t know. In preparing a ToC we identify the evidence base that either confirms or amends your projects’ designs and presents any weaknesses in their current delivery.

The development of a ToC is part of our Measure package. Please click here for more information.