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Developing your theory of change

A couple of months ago I was involved in running the residential weekend for the Sheila McKechnie Foundation award winners.

We had gathered the award winners together and over the course of a long weekend attempted to cover some of the key points in campaigning – reflecting on both success and failure. I am always struck when doing these events at what things work with different groups.

This time talk about developing a theory of change for a campaign seemed to resonate with people. This was nothing complicated but using the simple device of ‘so that’ to create a chain of events to demonstrate how you see your campaign unfolding. Those two little words ‘so’ and ‘that’ can help you link your campaign actions together and show how your issue can take off. Basically, it works in this way… we are going to do something so that something else happens so that etc. Simple, but effective. Try it on your issue.

When I started off campaigning I think that I created a theory of change chain in my head; what I have come to realise is how important it is to write it down and then use your words to review progress and reflect on your learning. Indeed one of the most simple monitoring and evaluation approaches for campaigning is to spend time reviewing your theory of change:

  • What happened?
  • What was different to what you expected?
  • What have you learnt from this experience?
  • What will you do differently?

And then a while later I was involved in an advocacy training course for INTRAC – the international NGO training and research centre. What I love about these courses is that INTRAC is able to pull together people from across the globe, who have a common interest in campaigning and seeking policy change. We had people from Thailand, Middle East, Timor Leste, Tanzania, Ethiopia to name just a few places. Again I was struck by how the theory of change model seemed to help people.

We discussed how to pick the right issue to run with when you are developing an advocacy campaign, and our conclusion was that if you can develop a good theory of change chain of events, you stand a good chance of developing a real sense of momentum on a campaign. And campaigning is nothing if not developing real momentum.

If you are interested in reading more about this issue, and many other things as well, you should take a look at Brian Lamb’s new ‘Guide to campaigning and influencing’. I should add that I am not on commission, but I did read this book recently – and it does pull together all the key elements of campaigning information very neatly. It’s well worth a look!