Theory of Action/Theory of Change- A few tips and lessons learned…

  • For a ToA to be more than just a map, the facilitator needs to be sure that the organization has the understanding and capacity to take on facilitation itself (for example by providing suggestions, a simple toolkit). The goal is for the   process of critical thinking to  happen independently of a facilitator, and for the tool to become a part of ongoing organizational reflection and learning. While outside facilitators are important in asking questions, pushing back, it’s not always feasible for  groups to have access to one on a regular basis. This facilitation guide can provide some guidance for groups interesting in leading, participating in,  and continuing to use ToA as a planning tool.
  • ToC processes can be long and seem overly theoretical, and raise questions about cost-benefit. Consider ways of making the process more accessible, especially for organizations with limited resources. A focus on a Theory of Action rather than Theory of Change can be more manageable, relevant for some groups.
  • ToA is best when considered as one tool in a larger toolkit of approaches and methods  to help groups prioritize, reflect, and evaluate.
  • It is often helpful to have groups complete a brief pre-ToA survey to get them thinking critically about their work. This can also help the facilitator to provide some framework for the change map; looking at a blank wall and a pile of post-its can be a bit daunting!
  • Be open to a variety of visual approaches to represent thinking. Not all people are linear thinkers, and complex change work be represented in many ways that reflect relationships and logic.
  • It can be helpful do bring findings from past assessments or evaluations to the conversation. While this could easily overwhelm participants, sharing a smaller number of salient points can be helpful. (One idea is to put a few points on white sticky paper around room)
  • Consider any visual representation as a work in progress. The goal is to have a rich, structured conversation that helps the group to strengthen their work, not a ‘perfect map’.

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  1. […] have integrated other tools, particularly to build on ToA for action planning. (See Basic Steps and Tips and Lessons Learned). While we found  discussions on the logical linkages between activities and shorter and longer […]

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