Theory of Change thinking: From novice to master change maker

Project Management, Operations


Theory of Change is a key approach wherever social change is involved. It forms the cornerstone of impact management, is vital for impact measurement, and often a requirement to attract funding.

Business for Development offers the premier e-learning on the topic of Theory of Change. The course:

  • Is online and self-paced.
  • Provides high-quality content that covers the full spectrum of Theory of Change topics. It starts at the level of a beginner and continues at an intermediate level.
  • Is completely animated, builds upon a storyline, and includes gamification elements. It makes learning fun and engaging.
  • Is practical; step-by-step assignments help you develop your own ToC.
  • Is available at

Are you ready to build a learning culture for impact and to take impact management to the next level?
Enter code CHARITYJOB for our special rate. You can enroll in our e-learning at any moment.

What you will learn

Theory of Change practice
– Purposes for which to use ToC
– Value of ToC in management of social and environmental change
– Underlying issues that led to the development of ToC
– Critique ToC sometimes receives

What is a Theory of Change
– Important characteristics of a ToC (change process vs. intervention, product vs. process, visual form vs. narrative form and organisation vs. ecosystem)
– The role of assumptions
– ToC as a compass to help navigate a change process

Theory of Change thinking
– ToC thinking as a process and culture of constant analysis, critical reflection and co-creation
– How to draw on stakeholder engagement and co-creation for ToC development and implementation
– How to apply the three levels of probing (causation, warrant and causal assumption)
– How to apply the Necessary, Sufficient, INUS framework

Assumptions and theory
– Difference between theory and assumptions
– How to bring assumptions to the surface
– How to use theory to develop your ToC
– Distinguish between different types of assumptions
– How to build on different types of mechanisms

The development process
– The ToC development steps
– How to apply three complementary approaches: backward mapping, start with what you do, and an actor-based approach
– To look for validation at three levels
– How to align to context on different levels
– How to use nested ToCs
– How to apply the behavioural-based generic pathway created by Mayne

Pathways and causal chains
– The meaning of arrows in ToCs
– Chain of causality
– How to construct ToC pathways
– Different properties of causal relationships: INUS, size, validation confidence, likelihood, attention, and forms of causality (linear vs non-linear, threshold, ceiling, delay, and reinforcing vs weakening)

Theory of Change elements
– How to distinguish between inputs, activities, output, outcomes and impacts
– The Theory of Action
– To define the desired attributes the ToC elements
– The structure to formulate an outcome
– The importance to acknowledge side-effects and unintended effects
– How to distinguish between spheres: of control, of influence and of interest

The narrative
– The general narrative: Situation analysis; Vision of success; Purpose & scope; Change story
– How to use focused strategic narratives to zoom in and offer details behind your ToC relevant to your social and environmental success
– How to use strategy narratives to encourage stakeholder engagement and the input and feedback stakeholders may provide
– How a ToC is related to building a measurement framework

ToC as an adaptive, learning approach
– How to approach a ToC as a living, breathing document
– Practical ways to build the appropriate organisation culture
– The value of a flexible and emergent Theory of Action
– Scoping and focusing

Quality assessment
– How to recognise 16 common ToC pitfalls
– How to assess the level of detail and completeness of a ToC
– How to conduct a quality audit of a ToC

Your very own Theory of Change
– Throughout the course you apply the lessons learned and develop your very own ToC
– You’ll create an action plan about how ToC thinking can be implemented in your own organisation
– You’ll create a learning agenda based on the formulated assumptions

What you require

You will need a computer with Internet access and a modern Internet browser that allows you to watch videos from Vimeo and open PDF files. We recommend against using Internet Explorer as your Internet browser.