Welcome back to Evaluation Connections, a quarterly e-newsletter designed to provide Making Connections grantees with easily accessible evaluation resources.

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EC Issue 2 | September 2016

Focus on

Creating an Implementation Theory of Change


This issue of Evaluation Connections (EC) provides an overview of developing an implementation theory of change and discusses how you can use the findings from your Making Connections (MC) community needs assessment and data collection processes to inform your theory of change development. MC grantees have been asked to create a theory of change for program implementation as part of the required activities for the MC planning year.  The information below is intended to help you with this process.


This implementation theory of change is different from the one completed at the  start of your planning yearYour implementation theory of change should summarize the work you outline in your MC action plan. 

What is a Theory of Change?

A theory of change is a statement of the beliefs and assumptions about how to create community change. A theory of change offers an explanation of why certain strategies will be used because it responds to the questions:
  • Why is there a need for change and for whom? (Population Context)
  • How will you achieve these changes? (Strategies)
  • Why do you think these activities/strategies will produce the desired changes/outcomes? (Outcomes)
Theories of change create meaningful associations between the population being served, the strategies that are being implemented, and the desired outcomes. To learn more about a theory of change click on here and here.

Developing a theory of change directs stakeholders to think about priorities, what they intend to achieve, and strategies for achieving their identified goals.

True or False? 

True or False: A theory of change and a logic model are the same thing. 

Using Data to Create Theory of Change

MC grantees are conducting community needs assessments and analyzing their data. These data can inform decisions about what strategies and programs will best address the needs of your population of focus. Data provide a tangible anchor for conversations with partners and community members about:
  • Why the issues/needs of your community are important,
  • Who you want to serve,
  • What you hope to accomplish, and
  • How you believe MC can help achieve your identified goals.
Theory-driven Approach
Using a theory-driven approach to guide strategic planning for program implementation can help MC grantees and partners get specific about their intent. The process of clarifying intent increases transparency as grantees and partners identify goals and discuss assumptions about how specific actions will bring about desired changes. Data collected during program implementation are later used to understand whether strategies actually resulted in the expected outcomes. As implementation proceeds, a theory-driven approach focuses on impact—did your MC initiative accomplish what you intended?

Who Should be Involved with Creating your Theory of Change?

Developing a theory of change should be a group activity because group discussion helps build shared understanding across your group. Form a small workgroup of 8-10 key staff, partners, and members of your population of focus to participate in theory of change development. The workgroup should include people who will be responsible in some way for planning, implementing, providing/receiving services, or evaluating your MC initiative. Workgroup members should be thoughtful, informed and have authority to represent the ideas and concerns of the groups they are representing.

Creating your Making Connections Implementation Theory of Change

Creating your MC implementation theory of change will seem a bit like working backwards, or “backwards mapping.” Backwards mapping involves identifying outcomes for your initiative and then working “backwards” to identify strategies that you believe are necessary to accomplish those outcomes. The term “backwards mapping” refers to the method of identifying the overall impact and outcomes before responding to, “what activities/interventions should we implement to achieve our goals?” Click on the interactive figure below for a step-by-step tour of the recommended action steps needed to develop your MC Theory of Change.

Tips on Facilitating Theory of Change Development 
Leading the discussion and implementation theory of change development with your MC partners can be quite the task, but with investing time researching and understanding what a theory of change is and how it can help guide you and your partners to create a shared understanding of ultimately the impact you intend to make, you will be prepared to guide the conversation in no time. Here are a few suggestions to consider before you get started on facilitating your theory of change discussion with your MC partners:  
  • Review the concept of Theory of Change- It’s important to understand the purpose of the theory of change process and why it is applicable for your program development and implementation processes.
  • Know your supporting evidence- Become very familiar with the data you and your MC partners have collected and the problems you are attempting to address.
  • Consider who should be at the table- Some MC grantees have formed Steering Committees with their partners that have been the driving force of planning year activities. Consider whether all of them or a smaller group should serve on your theory of change workgroup. 
  • Share Theory of Change resources with your group- It will be helpful for your workgroup to review any background information on theory of change, examples of a developed theory of change, and any preliminary work your team has collected and composed that would inform your theory of change development.
  • List of materials needed- Prepare a list of materials that will be needed to facilitate your theory of change during planning sessions. Get creative! Bring colorful post-its, flip boards, markers, pens, a projector or other materials that will inspire creativity and foster engagement and interactions during this process.
Ready…Set…Theory of Change!

Click here and here for resources on how to facilitate a theory of change development within your work group.
The Making Connections Evaluation emphasizes theory-driven evaluation, an approach that allows planners and implementers to test their ideas (theories) about how to create program, community, and system change. Theory-driven evaluation promotes development of shared vision, clear linking of strategies to intended outcomes, and a commitment to using data to inform decision making at all stages and levels of implementation.
For more information about Evaluation Connections, please contact Melissa Tirotti
or your Making Connections Evaluation Liaison.

The Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Initiative is designed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of men and boys in the U.S. This initiative is funded by the Movember Foundation and implemented in collaboration with the Prevention Institute. USF provides independent evaluation of the Making Connections Initiative.

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