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Working with Theory of Change and Complexity

Working with Theory of Change and Complexity

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.


Tavistock Institute

November 14, 2016

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  1. Working with Theory of Change and Complexity Richard Allen, Principal

    Researcher & Consultant, TIHR 23rd March 2016
  2. 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. We provide: •  OrganizaKonal development and change consultancy •  Coaching and professional development •  EvaluaKon and acKon research •  Learning from organizaKonal change and innovaKon
  3. “The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity”. Jacob

    Burckhardt, cultural historian, writer and art scholar, (1818 – 1897)
  4. Chaos and Complexity

  5. Working in Complexity I live in a self organizing system

    which means I’m on the edge of chaos Cause does not = effect I can see a lot of nested systems in here Everywhere I look there are repeated irregular forms It’s all a bit fractal! I’m interested in the emergent
  6. 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
  7. Experiencing complexity

  8. 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) e.g. Poverty Climate change Mental ill health Domestic Violence Attachment
  9. Addressing system complexity Model it or bound it? Bounded raKonality

    (Simons) Boundary as choice Social ConstrucKon Not barrier but interface
  10. Simple, Complicated or Complex? • A recipe • Moon Rocket • Raising a

    child ConKngency or ElecKve Complexity?
  11. Proposed Model of System Change (Fishman-Foster et al, 2007, p.

    199) Working with Complex System Change
  12. Theory as Complex System Boundary Making Social Inclusion/Exclusion Social Capital

    Theory Social Judgements Theory AMachment Theory Built from ‘SubstanKve Theory’ – context specific and built from a number of cases The phenomena of interest emerge at a different level from the interacKon that gave rise to them
  13. Introducing Theory of Change “If” then “What”? 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 13
  14. 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)
  15. Agency “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)
  16. The Progress of Theory of Change From evaluaKon to programme

    planning Theory Driven Programme Management? Unpacking the Black Box Theory Driven Complexity
  17. Theory of Change format Linking acKviKes to results and impact

    Useful when objecKves and acKviKes can be idenKfied and Kghtly planned beforehand From Patricia Rogers (2014) Theory of Change UNICEF
  18. The Paradox • Linear and complex are not compaKble • But a

    strong interest in using it for working in complexity • An example of sensemaking – lost in the Alps • ToC as a raKonality carrier • Coping with dissonance
  19. “TOC Thinking” Working with the systemic relaKonship between actors, context,

    theories, reflecKon and strategy An alternaKve to linear planning A sensemaking framework An approach to navigaKng the complexity of social change ArKculaKon of assumpKons AdapKve ToC CriKcal thinking Linking mulKple projects TesKng links in ToCs Turning ToC from an object to a pracKce
  20. 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
  21. 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 jobs •  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 educaKon
  22. Embedded example - Improving community participation in local governance 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 to respond 3)  If we increase capacity of local elected leaders then the %age of positive responses will increase 22
  23. Implementation 23 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 acKon. 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.
  24. 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
  25. Our Approach to ToC use in programmes Phenomena to be

    addressed Change sought System idenKficaKon and analysis Exploring how change works individually and collecKvely IdenKfy which parts of the system to address IdenKfying agency – who can do what? GeneraKng layered Theories of Change Theory of ImplementaKon / Logic Model Reflexive sensemaking and keeping track
  26. NegaKve experiences of school Disrupted family relaKonships Disrupted family relaKonships

    Gender Benefits trap Low employer awareness IsolaKon Access Offending Theory of Change and Programme The complex NEET system and Theory of Change Impact: Changing lives, removing barriers. 26 TOC Dealing with Complex System Emergent issues
  27. 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 savings; •  An NGO providing training and consultancy in the InternaKonal Development Sector; •  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
  28. 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 knowledge •  The ToC shapes and is shaped by the emerging (becoming) programme THANK YOU!
  29. References 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- builders-approach-theory-change-pracKcal-guide-theory-development 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: hMp://mande.co.uk/2012/uncategorized/comic-relief-theory-of-change-review 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 Development. Weiss, C., (1997), “Theory –Based EvaluaKon:, Past Present and Future”, New DirecCons for EvaluaCon, No. 76, pp.41-56.