Creating a Theory of Change Toolkit
Analysts support the development of policy and decision making in many ways. We can provide vital evidence to inform a decision. But we also work with our non-analyst colleagues to bring analytical rigour to the whole process of designing an intervention. This is where Theory of Change (TOC) is an invaluable tool in an analyst’s collection.
TOC is a methodology for designing and implementing interventions, which encourages a holistic understanding of the context of decision making and interventions. One of the main benefits of using TOC is that it can help make evaluation more effective because it is considered from the very beginning. It also encourages a better understanding of the evidence base for an intervention, and helps to build a consensus among your stakeholders. This is why we have been working with experts across government to develop the Analysis Function (AF) TOC toolkit as a beginners guide to the design and implementation of TOC.
The toolkit has been developed to support the development of departmental Outcome Delivery Plans. It can be used by civil servants working across government, to get an overview of the TOC approach. The Magenta Book is the definitive source of guidance on evaluation for government analysts, and the AF TOC toolkit can be used in conjunction with it.
Developing a TOC is a journey that involves 11 main steps. Our TOC toolkit maps out these steps for you from the initial thinking stage to the TOC model. It includes quality assurance at all stages of the process, plans for monitoring and evaluation, and TOC review steps. It provides simple steps for building a TOC with practical examples and resources to support the justification, design, review, and communication of TOC. TOC is a tool that can be used proportionately and flexibly depending on the context, and so the toolkit includes a range of examples to demonstrate how TOC has been used to improve outcomes in different settings.
Collaboration is a strong theme throughout the process of developing, and it is only really successful if it draw on the views of a wide range of stakeholders.
We have already had great feedback on the tool, but we would love to hear about how it works for you. So if you’re new to TOC, please take a look and see how you can apply TOC to a policy, project or programme you’re working on, use the toolkit and give us your feedback by filling in our online form.
Why Theory of Change matters
Failing to include important stakeholders and analysts at the design stage of the decision-making process can be costly in many ways. It can lead to poorer outcomes for users, inefficiencies, duplication of effort, and missed learning opportunities. It encourages continuous learning and adaptation.
TOC supports critical thinking, urges clearer articulation of causal pathways, and provides the foundation for effective monitoring and evaluation plans. It is essential for ensuring that your intervention and processes provide the intended benefits.
The development of a TOC is the most important step to demonstrating the effects of your intervention. This can be developed in many ways to reflect different contexts and available resource. Creating a TOC is beneficial because it:
- provides the framework for strategic decision making and communication with partners within and outside your department
- improves relationships with your partners and ensures everybody is aligned – this will help improve how the intervention is operationalised
- enables you to consider available evidence, identify opportunities and blockages
- helps to identify SMART outputs, outcomes, and impacts in a transparent way
- creates a basis for monitoring and evaluation to assess whether your intervention is working as planned – this will help you learn timely lessons, refine, and adapt your programme
What the toolkit contains
The AF TOC toolkit has been developed to make the design and implementation of TOC easier for beginners. It provides simple steps for building a TOC with practical examples and resources to support the justification, design, review, and communication of TOC. The toolkit also provides a range of examples to demonstrate how TOC has been used to improve outcomes in different contexts.
The AF TOC tool kit has benefited from experts from across government working together to provide input. We are grateful to the initial evaluation experts in the AF Evaluation Support Team that generated the first version of the report and the Evaluation Task Force for their comments. We are also grateful to the teams that reviewed the toolkit, including:
- the Cross Government Evaluation Group (CGEG)
- the central evaluation team at the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
- the Ambitious, Radical, Inclusive Economic Statistics (ARIES) Evaluation Team
- the Department for Education and Skills (DFES)
- the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- HM Land Registry
- HM Prison Service (HMPS)
- user testers in the Qualitative data collection methodology and Delivery and Impact teams at ONS
Some feedback from departments
The toolkit has gone through several iterations of user testing. The final published tool kit reflects suggestions from user testers across government departments. Users have generally been very positive about the toolkit. We received positive comments about the relevance and accessibility of the toolkit, and the benefits of having the most important resources available in one place.
A TOC novice from the Department for Education (DfE) said:
“For someone who does not have much experience of using TOC at work and the process involved, I think overall the toolkit was extremely useful. It gave a good overview with an easy-to-follow step by step of how the process works, with justification throughout.”
A user tester from the Economic Statistics Production and Analysis directorate at ONS said:
“As a standalone [resource] it provides a wonderful summary, but it’s also so much more than that if you want to use it to help develop things – guess the name is in the title ‘Toolkit’!”
A user tester from the Analysis Function Central Team said:
“There were lots of links to a wide range of examples which was good for providing a variety of sources at each stage of the process. It really got me thinking about the aims of our project and how we are going to be able to meet that aim based on the resources we have and evaluate the success of it at different stages.”
A representative from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said:
“I think the document does a good job in detailing the various elements of TOC.”
A representative from DEFRA said:
“[The Theory of Change workshop resources] look really helpful.”
A representative from HM Land Registry said:
“Thanks for sight of this really fantastic resource. It is literally perfect for me at the moment as I am developing the theory of change for the HM Land Registry Strategy 2022+. [The toolkit is] very accessible because it is short!”
You can contact the AF Evaluation Support Team for more information about TOC workshops at Evaluation.Support@statistics.gov.uk.