For social change makers, thinking through and articulating the process for how change
will occur—or identifying a theory of change—undoubtedly is a useful exercise for
formulating effective strategy. Theories of change are illustrations of how change is
expected to play out over time and the role that organizations will play in producing that
change. They show how strategies will connect to interim outcomes that then set the
stage for long-range goals.1
The idea of developing a theory of change is now a well-accepted practice among funders
and their grantees. Less patience exists, however, with the tools available for articulating
theories of change. Common complaints are that they can be too linear, too removed from
context, and too restricted in their ability to facilitate thinking about how strategies need
to adapt over time. This is especially true for advocacy, where theories and their
associated strategies may need to shift in response to a variable political context, or if
advocacy tactics are not as effective as anticipated.
This brief offers a simple one-page tool for thinking about the theories of change that
underlie public policy advocacy strategies. It first presents the tool and then offers six
questions that advocates, and funders working with advocates, can work through to
better articulate their theories of change.
The tool—labeled the advocacy strategy framework—has several advantages over more
familiar linear box-and-arrow theory-of-change tools:
As advocacy is not predictable or linear, the tool does not force linear thinking.
It offers a place to start, rather than a blank page.
It helps advocates to think more specifically about audiences—who is expected to
change and how, and what it will take to get them there.
While theories of change often consider advocacy strategies in isolation of other
efforts, this tool helps to think about how other advocates (like-minded or in
opposition) are positioned.
It prompts thinking about useful tactics and meaningful interim outcomes.
Harris, E. (2005). An introduction to theory of change. The Evaluation Exchange, 11(2), p.12, 19.
Available at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/hfrp/eval/issue30/expert3.html.