Eastside Primetimers consultant Rosie Chadwick reflects on the role of Theories of Change in driving strategic and business development.

In recent months I’ve supported a variety of organisations to map their Theory of Change, with clients ranging from a housing association to an early years provider to an infrastructure body. I’ve found Theory of Change development to be really good discipline. It puts everyone on the same page about what a venture is trying to achieve, helping staff and volunteers see where they fit within a bigger picture. Mapping a Theory of Change forces organisations to think long and hard about the evidence and assumptions their approach is based on, where the evidence gaps are and what to do about these. The exercise is also important in laying the foundations on which to build a social impact framework.

But the benefits go beyond that. In each of my Theory of Change assignments there has been a ‘light bulb moment’ of strategic significance for the organisation.

For the early years provider, mapping their Theory of Change shone a light on their important contribution to supporting parents’ at home engagement in their children’s education, something research has shown is critical to how well children do at school. The provider took this for granted, but needed to do more to evidence their impact in this arena.

Meanwhile, work on the housing association’s Theory of Change flagged the importance of partnering with others to create more ‘safe spaces’ for residents in the wider community, a vital stepping stone for move on.  The Theory of Change also underlined the continuing importance of the founder’s motivating principles. Forged 50 years ago, these are key to what makes the association stand out from the crowd.

Last but not least, work with the infrastructure body on their Theory of Change reinforced the need for the ‘community voice’ to run through everything they do, including their approach to impact measurement. This also prompted thoughtful reflection on their approach to advocacy and their role in building community networks.

My conclusion? Theories of Change are about much more than theory, though the theory is important. They do more than set the stage for social impact measurement, though again this has great value. Done well, and acted on, they can be an important lever for strategic and business development.

For more tips on this, read our handy document ‘Mapping a theory of change: some practice pointers’. You can find this under our new Resources and Tools page.

If you would like to speak with one of our team about how we can help you better manage, measure and demonstrate your impact, please contact us on 020 7250 8334 or email dawn@ep-uk.org to arrange a conversation.

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