Monitoring Activities II: Theory Of Change


Following our previous discussion on Results Based Management (RBM), we take a closer look at Theory of Change (TOC) – a methodology which expands the perception of assessing impact. It takes a more intensive approach by focusing on details the log frame and RBM seem to dismiss. Theory of Change looks at the ‘bigger picture’ then follows processes backwards with the aim of understanding all the elements required to achieve the ‘bigger picture’. Simply put it examines all the fundamentals needed to achieving the overall (organisational or project) goal with emphasis on the details that lead to achieving it. It considers the present and immediate future with one eye cast toward the ‘grander scheme of things’.

This model allows a process of articulation which is much easier to achieve among smaller NGOs and social enterprises. Especially as in light of their capacity for change, it keeps project processes specific to their objectives. Comparatively larger NGOs with an established hierarchy and organisation culture find it difficult to deliver their projects with this degree of critical assessment.

However, as with all monitoring tools, the same pitfalls apply – the environment is unpredictable. Project managers and decision makers do not always share the same view. The Theory of Change warrants greater accountability from senior managers. It forces them to know and question the logical linkages between activities, outputs, outcomes and goals and the evidence needed for it. Requiring them to define and set performance expectations for key aspects of the results chain. Within an NGO this means a senior manager cannot sit back and expect results, he or she must have a more active engagement in the pursuance of their projects. On the plus side, managers can involve their staff in brainstorming sessions, promoting a more creative thinking approach. It also means evaluation and adaptability go hand in hand. Where an NGO needs to evaluate its funding sources – there is more focus on changing processes. A focus on promoting better accountability within the organisation to improve chances of securing funds. If NGOs and their partners are capable of harmonising their approach to accountability through the Theory of Change, there is scope for better project delivery and potential for future projects to be strategically interlinked.

“This model allows a process of articulation which is much easier to achieve among smaller NGOs and social enterprises.”

Producing a TOC diagram is also a handy way for NGOs that are increasing or scaling down their operations. In both instances NGOs can benefit from being able to visualise the organisational changes they seek to implement. The diagram can help assess or re-assess the vision, aims and objectives allowing for better dissemination of information to staff. In this way organisations can refer to their diagram and more importantly, align people that deliver their projects to a concept that reviews all elements. We will elaborate on designing TOC diagrams in a future post.

Although change is a human endeavor, organisational change is something that can be quite difficult to achieve. If NGOs accept change is inevitable with the TOC as an aid, they can work backwards understanding which stages need to be completed before they achieve the overall goal. This quality resonates well with social entrepreneurs as they operate on a more flat organisational hierarchy where all input is valued. NGOs differ in that they typically do not generate their own profits that can be reinvested in their organisations, that being said smaller NGOs could potentially adopt a TOC to address their project assessment.

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