I get very excited about these three words ‘Theory Of Change’ and even more when they are accompanied with a program logic or set within the Sustainability Development Goals framework (more on these later in this Blog). Some of these words may not elicit as much excitement to all but their collective intents are worth their weight in gold.
Fortunately, my excitement is in good company and I really enjoyed the article that Kevin Robbie from Think Impact recently shared in Pro Bono. Like many of us interested in the concept of impact spending time reconsidering the benefits of the Theory Of Change goes right back to 1975 when it all began. The Theory Of Change has always been about being clear about the intended impact that you are seeking to achieve.
In Think Impacts article Robbie noted how they have spent time rethinking how to use the theory of change to drive social change this identifying five areas to consider. In my own research drawing on a fusion between complex adaptive systems theory and public policy I have identified 3 important ‘P’ letter words that assist with enabling the Theory of Change- I refer to this as the Enabling Theory Of Change – eTOC (see DrJMT Thesis).
The 3 Ps are described as follows:
Purpose – clarity your why (outcomes)
Process – the structure that outlines the frame to achieve your why (outputs/inputs)
Performance – how you know you have reached your why (Indicator impact/actions)
There is an order to the 3P’s particularly when the topic of measurement comes into play- Measurement without purpose is futile Dr JMT 2018.
Before any measurement of impact discussion can begin it most important to be clear on the issue or context (existing evidence) and what the intended impact is. This is what I refer to as clarity of why or purpose. For many organisations this means achieving your vision – understanding if once achieved there may be no need for the organization to be in existence – job done!
The concept of process includes the framing of objectives and outputs or Enabling factors /Activity/mechanisms as Think Impact have proposed. It is imperative that the process details the way you realize your purpose.
The final ‘P’ represents ‘performance’ and it is not until now that decisions about measurement or input and implementation actions can be made. It is at this point that the program of logic proves a frame to achieve and drive social change
I agree with Robbie that – program logic also supports the development of your outcomes framework to enable you to measure and manage your impact more effectively.
To assist with a program logic the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs also referred to as the Global Goals) provides a ready-made framework. In 2015 all United Nations countries adopted the SDGs as the central pillar of a global action plan for people, the planet and prosperity by 2030. The most important element of the SDGs is that they are not just internationally based for foreign aid but also have a domestic responsibility. This is such an important point as the understanding of this local and global connection is also an important thread to be woven into any eTOC and program logic.
Unfortunately, the reason this is such an opportunity is because Australia is not faring well on the SDG front. In another article in Pro Bono which was based on a recent University of New South Wales (UNSW) report – Cameron Allen the author of the report outlines how Civil society can help AUSTRALIA meet SDGs. I totally endorse this sentiment and throughout 2017 committed the Consequences Blogs to promoting the SDGs. AUSTRALIA has no overarching framework and the SDGs ticks this box completely. The main issue is twofold as not only do not enough organization align their local and global targets, but the SDGs are not being maximized – across all sectors – even the government who are totally responsible for achieving the SDGs.
The government’s fixation on a “growth at all costs” mentality has been the main discourse in Australia, with little appetite to fulfil the SDGs. Allen 2019
As demonstrated by the nearly 100 charities and business leaders that have completed The Growth Project the adoption of the SDG frame is something any organization can do regardless of the size of organization. For the past five years The Growth Project has held a measurement mandate of how organisations have shifted from little SDG awareness or alignment to ensure they are integral to their purpose; process and performance measures. In fact, Allen had a call for action for all sectors with a particular highlight for the charities sector.
The best way civil society could go about this was to spark momentum by highlighting the importance of the UN targets in a way that everyone understood
Civil society really has a role in being that conduit between a global agenda that AUSTRALIA has signed up to which no one knows about and linking that to people’s lives and how they can actually benefit people
Over 2020 I am looking forward to sharing more about The Growth Project and how the Global Goals are being addressed and more importantly in a way that follows the 3P’s of the Enabling Theory Of Change. This enables the whole decision making process to be relevant to the desired impact and simply makes the world go round.
Weiss. C.H 1972 ‘Evaluation Research’
United Nations SDGs – https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/Dr JMT Thesis – https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/128775/1/Meyer%20Tucker%20Thesis%202017.pdf