A Theory of Change (TOC) is a living tool that links:

  • What you do
  • Who you are targeting for results
  • Why and how you do it
  • What you expect to achieve

Developing a Theory of Change requires thoughtful conversations about how to strengthen programs. It structures your thinking and provides a platform to understand and measure results for learning and improvement.

"As a nonprofit, sometimes we can’t focus on evaluation work… [because of the TOC] it feels like it is becoming part of our culture, and is becoming institutionalized.”

- Environmental Education program leader
Photo credit:
Literacy for Environmental Justice

Theory of Change can help you:

  • Clarify how change happens, what progress and success look like, and what it takes to get there
  • Identify and account for factors that may affect success
  • Know what resources are needed to create change
  • Define what is within (and outside of) your “sphere of accountability”
  • Know what questions to ask, what data to collect, and how to make decisions that lead to better results

Theory of Change is not:

  • A static document that sits on a shelf (or file server)
  • A straitjacket that stifles innovation
  • An item to check off of your To Do list to satisfy external stakeholders
  • A neat way to package up what you are doing now
Photo credit: Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary

A strong Theory of Change is:
  • Meaningful: Does the TOC describe work that is compelling and meets an important need in a persuasive way?

  • Plausible: Does evidence and common sense suggest that core program components will lead to desired change?

  • Achievable: Are resources and time available to carry out the effort?

  • Testable: Is the TOC sufficient, credible and useful in tracking and measuring progress and outcomes?

Theory of Change Components

Click on the image below to access the
Overview of Theory of Change worksheets.
Learn how to put your Theory of Change into action!