Theory of Change

Are these documents worth the hype?

In the charity strategy toolbox, where does the Theory of Change sit?

It’s not clear which god wins out…

Is it the Zeus, the all-powerful ruler of the sky, thundering directives to chart the course of your organisation? Or is it more of a Hermes, the messenger god, a tool for communication that helps translate divine strategy into mortal action?

At always possible, we’ve seen, written, developed, re-written, critiqued and celebrated our fair share of Theories of Change.

We’ve nudged them from being the glimmer of an idea and watched them take their first steps. And, like any proud parent, we’ve also had to watch them stumble and fall. So, let’s be straight: Is a Theory of Change useful?

Yes! But…

Firstly, let’s call it what it is: a logic model. It’s a narrative that tells us how A leads to B, and how, eventually, we’ll hopefully arrive at Z.

It’s a storyboard for impact, outlining each frame from intention to action to conclusion. But, and here’s the critical part, it’s a story that demands to be questioned at every turn.

“Why do we believe this action leads to that result?”

This isn’t just navel-gazing; it’s a rigorous examination of the cause and effect that underpins our grand plans. And in this scrutiny lies the tool’s true utility—not just as a roadmap but as a reflective surface. It’s the organisational equivalent of holding up a mirror and asking, “Do these objectives make my bias look big?

Process-driven fun-times

It’s technical, yes, but let’s not forget the human element. A Theory of Change is always more about the people than it is simply about the process. It’s an ensemble cast, a collaboration that draws in voices from across the spectrum.

It should be radical collaboration in action—democratic, inclusive, and occasionally a bit raucous.

But let’s address the Trojan Horse in the room. The name ‘Theory of Change’ can be a misnomer, conjuring images of dusty academics in ivory towers. In practice, it’s anything but theoretical. It’s a living, breathing document that thrives on being prodded, poked, and challenged.

And, just like a good story, it can fall flat if it’s not well-crafted. Over-simplify, and you risk a thin plot. Over-complicate, and you’re wading through chapters and reams with a deadline looming. The skill is in what to keep, what to cut. What actually drives the vision.

When is it most useful?

When you’re standing at the crossroads of Decision ? and Direction ?, unsure which way to turn. It shines a light on the path less travelled and says, “This way to impact.”  A compass.

It’s also a formidable ally in the battle for funds.

Picture this: you’re rewriting a use case and evidence of need for the 35th time, PowerPoint at the ready. It is your Theory of Change that turns out to be your Excalibur, cutting through the fog of financial forecasts and budgetary bluster to show how their gold translates into social change.

In the end, a Theory of Change does contain a tool for every occasion, but only if you know how to use it.

At always possible, we wield it with precision, humility, and lots of human curiosity —always ready to adapt and never afraid to question whether the blade needs sharpening or if, perhaps, it’s time to use the corkscrew instead.

So, is a Theory of Change blimmin’ useful or not?!

Yes. As with any good story, it’s not just about the ending; it’s about the journey. And in this journey, the Theory of Change can be a very trusty sidekick—clear, future-focused, and, when push comes to shove, often indispensable.

 

Does your organisation have a ToC to be proud of?

The always possible team work with charities as diverse as Age UKRoyal Opera HouseLittle Green PigSocial Care Institute for ExcellenceTogether Co and Grassroots Suicide Prevention on strategy, positioning and impact measurement.

We can help your process be a bit more human.

Or your humans be more comfortable with process.

Talk to us about your Theory of Change.

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