Author Post: Demystifying Theory of Change

Written by Al Onkka, Author of Hubert Project E-Case: “Leading with Theory of Change”

Al Onkka

Theory of Change is one of those terms that can elicit groans from nonprofit practitioners.

Who has time to think about theories? And the word “change” makes people sweat a little. But, every organization I’ve worked with that goes through the process of creating a theory of change finds value and motivation in it. I think it’s because creating a theory of change requires that you think about your organization’s work in terms of positive outcomes – the change you are trying to create in the world.

Theory of change is valuable because it is a different way of thinking about your work, but different ways of thinking can be difficult to learn. Over the years, as a theory of change facilitator, I’ve seen that organizations can benefit a lot from a little theory of change when it’s done as a group process. I’ve also found that organizations learn theory of change best by doing it.

While there are many free (and good) online resources for those interested in diving deep into theory of change, they can be overwhelming to nonprofit practitioners. In this e-Study, I present theory of change in a way that I hope is accessible to those who are not familiar with it, or may even be skeptical of it. A more accessible theory of change process allows more people to participate. I’ve organized the e-study so that you can get started right away and learn the important concepts as you encounter them naturally. I’ve eliminated or reduced the amount of technical language – such as preconditions, ceiling of accountability, indicators – in the first half of the e-Study so as not to scare anyone off.

I love facilitating theory of change because it gets to the core of why we all do the important work we do. I hope that this e-Study helps more practitioners and organizations feel comfortable creating and using theory of change.

Still on the fence? Visit the e-Study and hear me speak more about theory of change on the introductory page.

Al Onkka is a principal consultant at Aurora Consulting, a Minnesota-based firm providing participatory strategic planning and evaluation services to small and midsized nonprofits. Al has worked in the field of evaluation, promoting data-based decision-making and organizational learning, since 2009. He uses and builds others capacity to use an evaluative lens to help their organizations discern and maximize their impact. 

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