Top 10 tips on using Theory of Change to plan a winning campaign

Theory of Change is a way of structuring how we think about campaigning. As campaigners we naturally identify a problem, look for a solution and try to influence people and decisions to bring about the change we want to see.

Yesterday’s breakfast learning session with Brian Lamb and Matthew Downie, run by NCVO Consultancy, showed us how by using Theory of Change in planning our campaigns, we can keep focussed on:

  • our end goal (impact)
  • what needs to happen to effect this change
  • challenging ourselves about why we think that approach will work.

Here are some tips I’d like to share about using Theory of Change

1. Get the right people in the room

Make sure that they have:

  • the right knowledge
  • commitment to the process.

Define the problem, who exactly you represent and decide what your end impact actually looks like in practice.

2. Plan backwards from the impact

This will help you to keep focussed on your goal and what is needed to achieve it, rather than making decisions based on the resources you have and/ or your usual activities.

3. Be rigorous about how you think you’ll achieve your goal

Find a logical link between what you want to achieve and what needs to happen in order to get there. Conversations about ‘we’ll do X, so that Y can happen, so that we can achieve Z’ are useful in helping you to be clear about the links.

4. Be explicit about the assumptions you’re making and why you think a particular approach will achieve your desired change

Will that decision-maker really be persuaded by your understanding of the problem and possible solutions? How do you know? What assumptions have you made? Have you considered other options?

5. Use your Theory of Change to strike a balance between aspirations and what your organisation can realistically achieve

This will help you to focus your efforts and resources where they are likely to have the most impact.

6. Test your Theory of Change out with stakeholders such as the people you exist to support

Gather rich data about the issues and solutions – based on your priorities – and always leave space for other people to come up with new ideas.

7. Use Theory of Change consistently in your campaigning

Demonstrate to yourself (and other stakeholders) that all actions and resources really do contribute towards achieving your desired impact. This will help keep your campaign focussed and help make decisions about which activities to prioritise.

8. Add structure to your campaign monitoring and evaluation

Be explicit about:

  • what you want to achieve
  • the change that needs to happen
  • how you think that will occur.

Theory of Change is an iterative process, so be honest with yourself and learn from your experiences. If something isn’t working, change it. If an assumption is incorrect, what effect will that have on your plans?

9. Build internal support for your campaign –communicate your Theory of Change

This will give everyone a shared picture of what you’re working towards, why and how your campaign will further your organisational objectives.

10. Use your Theory of Change to inspire your supporters to act with you

Build strong, meaningful messages about what you’re trying to achieve and motivate your supporters to take their own actions to help achieve that change.


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Sarah Gilbert is an experienced campaigner. She is an independent consultant and runs projects for NCVO on campaigning and influencing, including the Certificate in Campaigning and Leadership in Campaigns. She also coaches campaigners, has guest lectured for Roehampton University, and is a member of the advisory board for the University of Westminster's MA in Campaigning, Communications and Media. Sarah sits on the Campaigning Effectiveness Advisory Board and writes blogs, articles and tweets about how to influence people and the sector’s role in campaigning.

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