In this lunchtime talk, Richard Allen, Principal Research and Consultant at TIHR, presents Theory of Change as both a framework and reflective practice when managing complexity.
People could wonder, with good reason, why something like Theory of Change, with its strong linear and logic model foundations, could be used for managing in complexity. Theory of Change is already well established as an invaluable tool in theory based programme evaluation. There is now a rapidly growing practice of using it in the design and implementation of complex programmes. What is the attraction? And, How does it work? Drawing on the TIHR’s recent work, and research into Theory of Change use in the ‘not for profit sector’, we will be offering answers to these questions and exploring ways in which 'Theory of Change' is both a framework and a reflective practice.
Working with Theory of Change and Complexity
Richard Allen, Principal Researcher & Consultant, TIHR
23rd March 2016
The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR)
Founded in 1947 and dedicated to the study of human relaKons for the beMerment
of working life. We work with organizaKons as systems to help them achieve
change and greater eﬀecKveness. We are known for our innovaKve working and
capacity to surface and address hidden issues.
• OrganizaKonal development and change consultancy
• Coaching and professional development
• EvaluaKon and acKon research
• Learning from organizaKonal change and innovaKon
“The essence of tyranny is
the denial of complexity”.
Jacob Burckhardt, cultural historian,
writer and art scholar, (1818 – 1897)
Chaos and Complexity
Working in Complexity
I live in a self
which means I’m on
the edge of chaos
not = eﬀect
I can see a lot
look there are
It’s all a bit
Complex Adaptive Systems
Some features …
• Non-linear . Small causes can have large eﬀects
• Fractal – repeaKng irregular paMerns
• Unpredictability – operaKng at the edge of chaos
• Dynamic – the whole is greater than the sum of its
parts - Emergence
• EvoluKon is irreversible
• PredicKon is not possible
Working with the emergent
Community Change Programmes means dealing with
the emergent from complex “systems of
problems” (Ackoff 1974) or “Wicked Problems” (Rittel
and Weber 1973)
Mental ill health
Addressing system complexity
Model it or bound it?
Bounded raKonality (Simons)
Boundary as choice
Not barrier but interface
Simple, Complicated or Complex?
• A recipe
• Moon Rocket
• Raising a child
ConKngency or ElecKve Complexity?
Proposed Model of System Change (Fishman-Foster et al, 2007, p. 199)
Working with Complex System Change
Theory as Complex System Boundary
Social Capital Theory
Social Judgements Theory
Theory’ – context
speciﬁc and built
from a number of
emerge at a
gave rise to them
Introducing Theory of Change “If” then
Program theory: “an explicit theory or model of how an intervenKon …
contributes to a chain of intermediate results and ﬁnally to the intended or
observed outcomes.” (Funnell and Rogers 2011)
An “implementaKon theory (that) focuses on how the program is carried
out”(Weiss 1997). This can also be called a ‘logic model’.
ToC can be a framework and a process
Programme Theory +ImplementaKon Theory = Theory of Change
Theory of Change
• “I call the combinaKon of program theory and implementaKon theory the
program’s ‘theories of change’” (Weiss, 1995, p.58).
• Change is generated not by the programme acKviKes but by “the response the
acKviKes generate”(Weiss 1997, p.46)
“Every programme is packed with beliefs, assumpKons and hypotheses
about how change happens – about the way humans work, or
organisaKons, or poliKcal systems, or eco-systems. Theory of change is
about arKculaKng these many underlying assumpKons about how
change will happen in a programme.” (Rogers)
The Progress of Theory of Change
From evaluaKon to programme planning
the Black Box
to results and
acKviKes can be
From Patricia Rogers (2014) Theory of Change UNICEF
• Linear and complex are not compaKble
• But a strong interest in using it for working in
• An example of sensemaking – lost in the Alps
• ToC as a raKonality carrier
• Coping with dissonance
Working with the
An alternaKve to linear
An approach to
complexity of social
Linking mulKple projects
TesKng links in ToCs
Turning ToC from an
object to a pracKce
Two types of Theory of Change
• IntervenKonist - change within the system -
bounded by the condiKons e.g. beneﬁciaries
able to change
• Embedded – bounded by analysis and
plausibility – changing the system
Project Superwoman - Interventionist
Surviving Domestic Violence
• Goal – Long term employment at liveable wage for DV survivors.
• Partnership – social services, training centre, domesKc violence centre.
• Theory 1 - Job stability and beMer wages from training for skilled building
• Theory 2 - Training will only lead to job stability if it helps with coping
skills, child care and work place behaviours
• Outcomes – Coping skills and knowledge, marketable skills, internships.
• Pre-condiKons – counselling, pracKcal support, training classes, employer
Embedded example - Improving community participation in local
Theories of change
1) If we build citizen’s awareness and capacity, assist them
to overcome fear, and if action is in the interest of their
livelihoods, then they will act.
2) If there is increased pressure from citizens, then duty
bearers (e.g. politicians) will be increasingly compelled
3) If we increase capacity of local elected leaders then the
%age of positive responses will increase
Mixes ToC, adaptaKon and experimentaKon
1. ElecHon promises tracking: Training of ‘trackers’ in 36 communiKes before the elecKons. They are
recording progress against the leaders’ promises using cartoon noKce boards.
2. Farmer animators: Training 200 farmers to understand principles of accountability, how to strategize
to hold those in power to account, how to share their knowledge and facilitate their groups to take
3. AcHve musicians: Training 42 musicians on principles of accountability to include in their music, which
is widely listened to by communiKes.
4. Student councils: SensiKzing students and teachers on issues of democracy to enable students to
campaign for leadership and to hold elecKons; linking students with community ‘champions’ to help
them raise issues with teachers and school management commiMees.
5. Community radio: Using radio to enable pastoralists to share informaKon and debate. However, the
government has not yet granted the radio licence.
TIHR’s work - Process perspecKve
• A world in the process of becoming
• Becoming not desKny
• Events not variance
• ExplanaKon not predicKon
• Organizing rather than organizaKons (sensemaking)
• Embedded – part of the system
Our Approach to ToC use in programmes
Phenomena to be
System idenKﬁcaKon and analysis
Exploring how change works
individually and collecKvely
IdenKfy which parts of the
system to address
IdenKfying agency – who can do
Theories of Change
Theory of ImplementaKon /
Reﬂexive sensemaking and
NegaKve experiences of
Disrupted family relaKonships
Theory of Change
The complex NEET system
and Theory of Change
Impact: Changing lives,
TOC Dealing with Complex
System Emergent issues
Examples from current work of using ToC
for managing in complexity
• A ﬁnancial services sector organizaKon providing advice, knowledge
and capacity building for addressing UK populaKon wide aspects of
personal money management such as debt, ﬁnancial planning and
• An NGO providing training and consultancy in the InternaKonal
• An NGO, working internaKonally, and in the UK, on developing and
running programmes and partnerships aimed at conﬂict resoluKon
and prevenKng the impact of radicalisaKon on young people
What I think I’ve said
• ToC has grown to embrace programme management
• Seized on as a vehicle for aspiraKons to programme manage in a
complexity sensiKve, adapKve, reﬂecKve and embedded way.
• The problems that programmes deal with are complex system emergent
• To work with them they have to be bounded, but how and why?
• Bounding complexity is a social construcKon driven by theory and
• The ToC shapes and is shaped by the emerging (becoming) programme
Anderson, A., (2010), The Community Builder's Approach to Theory of Change, A PracKcal Guide to Theory Development,
The Aspen InsKtute Roundtable of Community Change, New York. hMp://www.aspeninsKtute.org/publicaKons/community-
Chen, H. (1990), Theory Driven EvaluaCon, Sage, California.
Connell, J. P., & Kubisch, A. C. (1998). Applying a theory of change approach to the evaluaKon of comprehensive community
iniKaKves: progress, prospects, and problems. New approaches to evaluaCng community iniCaCves, 2(15-44).
Funnell, C., and Rogers, P., (2011), Purposeful Program Theory, EﬀecCve Use of Theories of Change and Logic Models, John
Wiley, New Jersey, USA.
Lively, P. (1997), “The BuMerﬂy and the Tin of Paint” in The Five Thousand and One Nights, Fjord Press, SeaMle.
James, C., (2011), Theory of Change Review, A report commissioned by Comic Relief, Comic Relief, available from:
Nicholls, A. (2009), " 'We do good things, don't we?': 'Blended Value AccounKng' in social entrepreneurship", AccounCng,
OrganizaCons and Society, Vol. 34, pp 755-769.
Rogers, P. (2014) Theory of Change, UNICEF.
Vogel, I., (2012), Review of the use of ‘Theory of Change’ in internaConal development, UK Department for InternaKonal
Weiss, C., (1997), “Theory –Based EvaluaKon:, Past Present and Future”, New DirecCons for EvaluaCon, No. 76, pp.41-56.