Theory Of Change: Communicating With Structure

Gadis Lukman

Communicating ideas during pitching or for funding can be very challenging, especially if we do not have a reliable framework to hold on to.

The Theory of Change can be one useful tool for social entrepreneurs to understand the end goal we want to achieve and how we can communicate it meaningfully and clearly. This structured thinking helps the audience to follow our train of thoughts and better understand the cause we are fighting for.

What makes the Theory of Change (or Pathway of Change) different is that it requires a backward mapping – starting with the end goal or long-term social impact in mind.  

The Theory of Change is perfect not only for those who are starting a social project or enterprise, but also for those who are in the later stage – where usually the initial plan has changed along the way and some structures need to be put in place.  

How does it work?

This framework consists of five different items that you need to identify all the way from the top:

1.     Social Impact: the end goal you want to achieve

(i.e. alleviating poverty in Tamanjaya, Ujungkulon)

2.    Social Value: the outcome that your organization will achieve to create social value

(i.e. local citizens in Tamanjaya, Ujungkulon have improved working skills that will help them gain additional income)

3.      Outputs: the expected results out of the activities the organization runs

(i.e. the number of alternative income-generating activities for local citizens in Tamanjaya, Ujungkulon; the number of local citizens trained for different working skills; the number of local citizens employed)

4.      Activities: the things organization does to achieve the output

(i.e. training the local citizens for different working skills, e.g. weaving, food production, etc.; hosting a job fair in Tamanjaya, Ujungkulon, and so on)

5.      Resources: the means needed to run the activities

(i.e. human resources; natural resources (land, water, etc.); technological resources (computers, internet, etc.); financial resources (capital, money, collateral, etc.); informational resources (knowledge)

It is important to note that apart from the five areas above, you must identify the assumptions and risks involved in order to achieve the set objective(s). For example, for the activities to take place, the assumption is that the local citizens trust the organisation and allow them to provide some training that can help them to get employed. Assumptions can also be in the format of research that backs up the theory –ensuring that the theory would actually work.

Why is it important?

Through this theory, not only we get how a goal can be made or achieved, but also to see the measurement of success –that will be useful to monitor if the project is still on track.

By applying this right, you will (hopefully) understand:

  • How to get where you want to be in a way that is easy to follow
  • How you will evaluate the process and if the activities have been effective to get to where you want to be

Where is it applicable?

You can always use this framework:

  •  As a framework to check what you have achieved thus far and if you are on course
  • As a tool to understand what happened and what lesson can be drawn upon the experience
  • As a means to keep your process clear and transparent for all stakeholders
  • As a basis for reports to your stakeholders (including funders)

Some other tips to consider

Be as specific as possible, especially when it comes to the desired change, i.e. the target population; the amount of change required to signal success; and timeframe for such change is expected to occur.

There are some type of assumptions for your reference:

  • The connection between the immediate (short), medium and long term goals ( you are going to make it happen, on what basis, etc.)
  • Proof that the preconditions for success to happen have been identified
  • Justifications to prove the link between the activities and outcomes you expect to produce

This article is based on insights shared during the “Theory of Change and Governance” session at DBS Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp 2015,  by Ari Sutanti, Senior Programme Manager of British Council Indonesia and


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