What are Theories of Change?


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What are Theories of Change?

A Theory of Change (ToC) enables development practitioners to understand how change happens in a given context and the role an individual or organisation can play in contributing to this change. It unpacks the causal linkages between activities, outputs, outcomes, impacts and the underlying assumptions. A ToC is both a product (a visual depiction or narrative) and a process, which takes place along the different stages of the project cycle management.

A ToC should take into account the views of all relevant stakeholders, including beneficiaries, and should be revised periodically to take into account changes in the context. It fosters continuous learning and critical thinking in the design and implementation of development programmes. 

Theories of Change and the SDC 

ToC are an increasingly important tool of SDC’s results-based management and approaches to poverty reduction and leave no one behind. The How-to Note on Theories of Change and Impact Hypotheses (forthcoming) aims to sharpen SDC's understanding of this approach and to foster its application in project/programme cycle management processes. The How-to-Note addresses SDC staff – in particular programme officers in Swiss cooperation offices (SCOs) – and staff of partner organisations involved in the management of SDC interventions.

In addition, participatory methodologies are key to include beneficiaries’ perspectives into the ToC process. For example, Beneficiary Assessments are a good way to grasp how people perceive results and the changes which occurred in their lives. There is a need for critical reflection when reporting on the results achieved in the immediate sphere of intervention, setting them within the context of development challenges and the likelihood of impact at a higher level (persons reached versus the entire target group, possibilities for systemic change).

Further Information

SDC staff: please visit the QA Shareweb for further information

> Theory of Change: what is it and why should we use it?

> State of the art on use of Theory of Change in the development sector, Briefing Note by IDS

> Opportunities for using complexity-aware approaches to Theory of Change, Briefing Note by IDS

> Background Literature on Impact Hypotheses

> Related Approaches to Impact Hypotheses 

> What’s your Theory of Change? A Paper from ODI