Around the Institute

Using (and Misusing) Theories of Change

October 3, 2014

God Save the Post-it

Beth Kanter’s recent commentary on that famous sticky note explores its great potential to enhance your meeting facilitation technique. We’ve used post-its for all kinds of things: theories of change, logic models, maps of advocacy networks, and (of course…) the occasional reminder. In our work with clients, our first step is always to clarify the objectives of the evaluation and identify the most important learning questions. And facilitating that initial discussion often requires an evaluator to come prepared with a diverse array of tools: post-its for sure, but also humility, a willingness to listen, and lots of good humor.

Demystifying the Theory of Change

This past summer, Craig Valters, Research Officer at the Overseas Development Institute, published a lucid paper and companion blog post all about the uses (and misuses) of the Theory of Change approach. He looked specifically at the experiences of the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation using Theories of Change for managing various programs. Much can go right with this approach – from opening a space for critical reflection on strategy and goals to providing greater freedom to analyze program outcomes. But, Valters warns, there’s also potential for misuse, especially if folks de-emphasize the learning aspect and obsess over top-down accountability.

Measurement Challenges

In case you haven’t noticed, all this week AEA365 featured posts from members of the Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group. Gretchen Shanks, evaluation officer at the Gates Foundation, kicked off the series with a thought-provoking discussion of her employer’s approach to assessing the work of grantee organizations. If you’re curious to learn more, the links at the bottom of her post are a gold mine. Listen in to the Inside the Gates podcast to get an update from Dan Green, the Foundation’s head of strategic media partnerships, about the state of media measurement. Our takeaway: there ain’t a silver bullet, but we must focus on what’s meaningful.