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Bringing your theory of change to life

I’ve written before about the importance of developing a theory of change as part of your campaign planning. There has been a lot written about this approach to campaigning, but stripped to its most basic I think it centres around two words: so and that.

You do something so that something else happens so that something else happens, and before you launch your campaign using this tool, you can show how your campaign is going to take off. I wish when I had started out campaigning someone had told me about this simple tool and how important it was to write it down and then regularly review it.

I was out in Tanzania recently doing some work with the Africa team for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. We had spent two days together covering  the basics of campaigning, and then we had the luxury of two more days to put this learning into action.

They were keen to use the theory of change model on one of their campaigns. As a trainer I was intrigued to see whether this tool would be useful for them and how they would use it. So it was great to see them work as a group developing their theory of change. But what most struck me was how they were having robust arguments for each stage of their model.

One colleague would suggest a next step, another would question whether that would actually follow, and then the originator of the idea would have to justify their thinking. We ended up with a theory of change on their issue on which they  had robustly challenged each other through every step. I was really excited to see  how they had worked to together to build a cohesive plan.

I am also doing some work in the UK with a group of small charities working in the refugee sector. Here again we have been developing a theory of change to help them to develop their campaigning agenda. We are beginning now to come up with an interesting theory of change that we have tested with each other internally. Yet we know we need to test it still further.

So we are going to talk to a few friendly politicians across all the parties to test out our theory of change model with them. We may have convinced ourselves that this theory of change will work, but will people working in different sectors and especially those working within the political sphere agree with our thinking or will they challenge our way of thinking.

I know that you can never second guess the future, but an effective campaigner  surely needs to see where their campaign is going and then is ready to test their thinking with their colleagues and with key external partners. I think one part of successful campaigning is a readiness to challenge your own thinking – how robust is your theory of change?