The ’10 minute theory of change’ challenge

Forget the ice bucket challenge; how about a theory of change in 10 minutes?

Want to shortcut the theory of change process? Well, I’m afraid you can’t; a robust theory takes time and care to develop. However, if you want a basic introduction to the idea and something that will help you communicate your impact, help is at hand. I have invented the ‘10 minute theory of change’, or ‘10 minute ToC’, as a way to start people off on the process.

This new form of evaluation wizardry simply involves telling your story in three sentences of no more than 20 words each – like an impact elevator pitch, perhaps. This is effectively a very simple form of theory of change, articulating what you do, the immediate changes you bring about, and the longer-term change you contribute to.

Here is an example, based on our work at NCVO Charities Evaluation Services:

  1. NCVO Charities Evaluation Services offers consultancy, training and resources to the voluntary sector and its funders
  2. This increases knowledge and skills in evaluation, which helps people collect better data to inform their decision making
  3. This, in turn, helps organisations improve their services, which helps improve the lives of vulnerable people at the frontline

So, I challenge you to create your own 10 minute ToC (and post it in the comment section below, if you wish to share).

Here are some tips:

  1. Statement one describes what you do, and who you work with. It effectively describes your outputs and target group. For an introduction to basic evaluation terminology as used by CES and others, have a look at the Jargonbusters website, or one of our free introductory guides to self-evaluation.
  2. Statement two describes the changes you hope to make in your client group – these are your outcomes. This statement, and statement three, just talk about changes in your user group (or whatever the target of your work is); neither statement should contain information about you or your services. Of course, in a full theory of change there may be layers of outcomes that happen at different points in time.
  3. Statement three talks about your impact. This should talk about broader, longer-term changes, often beyond your client group. This statement is similar to a mission statement in many charities.

I think you’ll find that being able to describe your work and the changes you bring about in a simple and concise way is incredibly helpful for planning, communications and fundraising. If you liked the 10 minute ToC challenge and would like to dig a bit deeper, contact us to find out how you can further explore this planning tool.


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Sally Cupitt is Head of NCVO Charities Evaluation Services. She been a consultant at CES for over 20 years. She specialises in independent evaluations of voluntary sector organisations, research and helping organisations to develop and implement monitoring and evaluation frameworks and systems.

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