Reading & video: Theory of change

In the definitions mentioned in the previous reading, we mention the word “change” twice: “achieving lasting change” (advocacy) and “broader movement for change” (campaigning). Change is a central feature of advocacy campaigns, yet it is often difficult to define what exactly is the change we want to achieve, in feasible and achievable steps. So this is why many advocacy campaigns fail as lots of activities don’t necessarily match targeted audiences and don’t necessarily lead to changes we hoped for.

Theory of Change is a comprehensive methodology (or a roadmap) to achieve social change that is being utilised in different industries (companies, international humanitarian organizations, academia…). It can be a very useful tool for campaigners linking the actions we are taking to the changes we wish to see happen. 

The Theory of Change methodology, or the tool, outlines the steps you need to plan to achieve your goal. This tool is very often used by big companies when they wish to transform the way they operate, by many international organizations in the humanitarian field, but also by small project teams unsure of how to set up their own project activities. This detailed roadmap allows you to spot potential risks in your plan by sharing the underlying assumptions in each step. Check this picture to understand this theory better (double click the image to visualise it better):


Source: Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation. 

 Also, this is an example of how the Theory of Change roadmap could look like, a model developed by  Development Impact & You (DIY), Nesta. Check it out to think about what and how you would like to change, and maybe keep it for the final project of this course (double click the image to visualise it better):


Source: Development Impact & You (DIY). 

Simplified Theory of Change model for campaigners asks four basic questions to help you define your advocacy campaign strategy:

    1. What is the overall change?
    2. What are the pre-conditions?
    3. What is your contribution?
    4. What does progress look like?

To tailor it more specifically to advocacy campaigning, we suggest that you check out this video by Bond, UK network for organisations working in international development, on how four simple questions can transform advocacy strategy and increase impact: 

To finalise this chapter, let's see a practical approach. Jonathan Ellis, a UK advocacy and campaigning consultant that worked with some of the biggest international organisations, developed a simple exercise based on Theory of Change. Starting from the premise that, in his own words “campaigning is not about an isolated activity, but a sequence of activities; in essence, you do something so that something else happens so that …. so that .. so that…”, he challenges anyone on the journey of starting an advocacy campaign to sequence their campaign answering a simple chain of “So that…”. To give an example: 

We are going to do some research

So that we can brief politicians 

So that they can raise the issue 

So that we can get some media coverage 

So that the government responds 

So that …… so that … so that …

This simple task builds up the logic between each activity in the campaign, which in turn builds the campaign's momentum.

Last modified: Wednesday, 15 June 2022, 11:17 AM