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Theory of Change: A Practical Tool For Action, Results and Learning

Author(s): Organizational Research Services (ORS) for Annie E. Casey Foundation
Publication Date: 2004 

This manual is prepared by the Organizational Research Services (ORS) for the Annie E. Casey Foundation to create more insight in the added value and implications of using a theory of change to foster community development. The manual provides extensive background information on the characteristics of a theory of change and guides the reader through its application with clear and elaborated case study material.

In short, the manual advocates for the use of a theory of change as it enables communities to make their goals, assumptions and the measurement of success explicit. It makes it possible to take into account different types of impact, influence and leverage outcomes. This implies that the community can keep track of changes at the individual level, the community level as well as the changes which take place in very different entities like institutions, service practices, norms, partnerships, regulations, etc. Besides, when the diverse input for the theory of change is made explicit, it also becomes possible to zoom in on the so-called ‘core capacities’ like leadership, clear plans and partnerships, which can be seen as the input which stimulates specific impact, influence and leverage outcomes.

The manual concludes with some recommendations for those who like to try developing a theory of change. First of all, it is important to question what drives the need for this process. Secondly, a successful theory of change will always be developed to support action by clearly prioritizing outcomes and strategies, providing a clear framework for accountability and resource investment, and will always be linked to wider communication and direct action.