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Harnessing the Power of a Theory of Change for PSBs

Event title: what is a theory of change and how might it be useful?

Impact measurement is a fundamental aspect of organisational success, but it can be challenging to articulate and communicate the intended impact in different contexts. To overcome this hurdle, many organisations rely on a valuable tool called a Theory of Change. So, what is a Theory of Change, and how can it be useful in driving positive outcomes?

Defining a Theory of Change

At its core, a Theory of Change is a process that helps organisations articulate and communicate the difference or impact they aim to make. It involves a structured and systematic approach to understanding complex issues and relationships. Through collaboration and discussion, it allows multiple stakeholders to achieve consensus on a shared impact story and take ownership of the organisation’s narrative.

The benefits of a Theory of Change for Public Services Boards

A Theory of Change offers several valuable benefits for PSBs:

  1. Clarity and Focus: By creating a specific and simple output, a Theory of Change connects the problems an organisation seeks to address with the desired impact it aims to achieve. It serves as a tangible map that clearly articulates a unified understanding within the organisation, enabling effective measurement, evaluation, and communication of impact both internally and externally.
  2. Evidence-Based Approach: A Theory of Change ensures that evidence and measures are embedded in the process. At every step, organisations must feel confident in their ability to collect data, test, and evaluate their theory. This iterative process of theory, output, and real-world testing allows organisations to experiment, learn, and improve their strategies.
  3. Holistic Perspective: A Theory of Change helps organisations articulate the impact across the entire organisation or program, regardless of individual projects, funders, or beneficiary types. It focuses on the key building blocks of impact management, outcomes, and performance management, promoting consistency and systematic approaches to achieving desired outcomes.

Understanding Impact

Impact, in the context of a Theory of Change, refers to the change or difference an organisation or program intends to make in the world. It possesses the following qualities:

  1. Positive: Impact refers to an organisation’s vision of what it wants to happen. While acknowledging that negative and unintended impacts exist, the focus remains on the desired positive change.
  2. Meaningful and Important: Impact addresses recognised social problems, aiming to bring about changes such as reduced crime, increased educational attainment, improved health, and enhanced quality of life.
  3. Sustained: Impact is the lasting effect of a service, persisting even after the intervention has ended. For example, a stop smoking service’s impact lies in the long-term cessation of smoking habits among individuals.
  4. Achieved by Individuals and Communities: Organisations do not directly make people healthy or educated; individuals and communities achieve these outcomes for themselves. The role of organisations is to provide resources (known as outcomes) that empower individuals to accomplish their goals and create impact.

A Theory of Change is a powerful tool that enables organisations to articulate and communicate their intended impact effectively. By guiding the process of understanding complex issues, fostering collaboration, and ensuring evidence-based approaches, it empowers organisations to measure, evaluate, and improve their strategies. Through a Theory of Change, PSBs can collectively work towards making a meaningful and sustained difference in Wales, creating a positive impact on individuals and communities they serve.

This blog is based on learning from an event run as part of the Shared Learning Network for PSBs within Project Dewi. This sub-network is designed to encourage, and support, people associated with Public Services Boards in Wales to share good practice and assist with each other’s challenges. Please get in touch if you would like to be involved:

Useful links

Re-watch the Shared Learning session 

Madeleine’s slides

Session exercise document

Creating a new theory FOR change

Theory of change in ten steps

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