Theory of Change

A Practical Tool for Action, Results and Learning

By Organizational Research Services

June 4, 2004


Every community needs a roadmap for change. A theory of change (TOC) outlines how to create that change. Developing a theory of change framework is an essential part of a successful community transformation effort. This manual, created for the Casey Foundation's Making Connections initiative, defines theory of change using Casey's impact, influence and leverage platform, and shows community advocates how to develop a theory of change model by showing the relationships between outcomes, assumptions, strategies and results.

The label theory of change is often referred to by other terms, such as pathway of change, engine of change, blueprint, logic model and theory of action. Regardless of the label, a theory of change offers a picture of important destinations and guides you on what to look for on the journey to ensure you are on the right pathway. In other words, without a theory of change, a community is vulnerable to wandering aimlessly.

Sample Theories of Change

This report offers real-world examples of theories of change in action, including this framework used by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections (Page 38).

Annie E. Casey Foundation Making Connections Theory of Change

Table of Contents

Key Takeaway

Thinking through a theory of change shows how the work progresses. It doesn't stop the work.

Some stakeholders may react in frustration to the theory of change development process because they view it as “taking time to think” which takes time away from “doing the work.” However, the thinking involved in developing a theory of change does not in any way preclude doing the work … it is almost impossible to determine whether progress has occurred in a community change initiative if you have not explicitly identified the steps to progress. Communities have too much at stake to engage in work without a clearly defined purpose.

Theory of Change Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations