What does a theory of change look like?

I’ve been working on ‘how change happens’ for a few years now, as regulars to this blog will know, but in the last few months, ‘theories of change’ has gone viral as a new development fuzzword. In meetings and documents, people earnestly enquire ‘what’s your theory of change?’ and you’re in trouble if you don’t have an answer. (Quite a good answer is ‘could you just explain what you mean by theory of change?’ – people often have no idea).

So it’s time to ride the wave and speed up the ‘theories of change’ work programme, and last week I spent some time at IDS and with Oxfam big cheeses thinking through what a joint IDS-Oxfam work programme might look like. Here’s what I’m currently thinking, with a plea to others to comment, send sources and otherwise give me a hand. Hat tips to Thalia Kidder and Jo Rowlands for their suggestions.

Firstly it’s ‘theories’ not ‘theory’. When people talk about a single ‘theory of change’ (ToC from now on), alarm bells should ring – in the worst case it’s just a new jargon for old-school linear change, impact chains, logframes etc. Instead of a deluded search for a single grand theory of everything, we need to learn to recognize and manage a range of theories, throw them at a problem, and see which ones are helpful (see my recent experience of doing this in Tanzania). Yes folks, we’re talking practical post modernism….. Surfacing our deeper, buried assumptions about the motors of change can also help us understand why we keep disagreeing with each other, a crucial skill in coalition-building.

Being able to acknowledge your own ‘preferred ToC’ and yet have the ability to stand outside it and understand those of others is really hard to do – an emotional and intellectual stretch – but it’s an invaluable skill. I think a lot of the practical impact of any ToC workplan is going to lie in helping build such capacities.

To do that, you need some rules of thumb – NGO types are mainly doers and activists, impatient to get on and change the world. They need practical tools to help them apply ToCs in their work. So I’ve been building on some work on ‘archetypes of change’ by Chris Roche and ‘meta-theories’ from Ros Eyben, to come up with this rough typology.

There are three categories, with some overlap between the categories, but broadly they are:

1. ‘Systemic meta-theories’ (apologies – please suggest a less pretentious alternative!), describing the underlying way you see the world and its motors of change. They may lead to particular change strategies, or simply underpin the overall analysis.

2. Archetypes – more specific snapshots of how change happens in a given place and moment. I’ve provisionally grouped them into four complexity signclusters: active citizenship, elite-driven change, cross-class coalitions and what I’ve called ‘dynamics’ where the focus is on the rhythm of the change itself, rather than specific drivers. Not sure if the dynamics actually belong in a separate column.

3. Change strategies, adopted by would-be ‘change agents’ to bring about good change/ prevent bad change

Category 1 is free standing; while categories 2 & 3 go together, i.e. the change strategies follow from the archetype of change in the same row. None of these lists are exhaustive, and some overlap with each other – I hope to reduce the level of messiness as the work proceeds, but here it is, warts and all.

Systemic meta-theories

• Rational Choice: change is unintended outcome of individual choice
• Environment/techno determinism
• Long term shifts in deep underlying  norms, values and beliefs
• Purposive individual/ collective action
• Marxist/Structuralist: changes in relations of production and economic power structures key
• Evolution (variation/selection/ amplification)
• Shocks and wars drive change by transforming social, political and economic relations

And here are the more specific archetypes and their associated change strategy:

1. Archetype: How Change Happens 2. Change Strategy: What we do
Active Citizenship: four powers Integrated change strategy using multiple strategies
AC: People in the streets Popular mobilization, supporting grassroots organization
AC: Grassroots leadership Leadership training
Elites: enlightened leaders Advocacy and elite networking
Elites: Technocrats make evidence-based policy Research-based advocacy
Cross-Class: Democracy works   Election campaigns, party influencing, voter registration drives
Cross-Class: Coalitions of dissimilar players (e.g. civil society, private sector, sympathetic state officials) drive ‘transitions to accountability’ Alliances and coalitions; convening role; use of power analysis to design insider-outsider advocacy and programme strategies
Dynamics: steady incremental progress Logframe/linear planningFocus on binding constraints
Dynamics: tipping points and  breakthroughs Reactive: rapid shift of resources to respond to shocks (financial crisis, Arab Spring etc)
Dynamics: contagion, through the power of example Piloting/supporting new approaches, publicising success
Dynamics: non linear and evolutionary  ‘Accelerating evolution’: supporting experiments, helping with variation and selection; advocacy for amplification

Clear as mud? I’d welcome all thoughts, especially on clarifying and improving the typology. Next steps are to start identifying case studies, plan some desk reviews, design some training modules and raise some research funding (do get in touch if you want to fund it!) I’ll keep you posted as plans develop.

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22 Responses to “What does a theory of change look like?”
  1. PS Baker

    All seems a bit too wonkish for my liking. Joan Magretta (What Management Is. The Free Press(2002)) put it like this:

    ‘Look at any successful non profit or government agency, and you will find all the critical elements of a good business model: clearly drawn characters, with plausible motives, who come together in a plot that makes sense. The story always hinges on how the organisation will change the world, or at least the specific aspect of the world its mission targets. Here the critical insight about value is what is sometimes called the organisation’s theory of change.’

  2. Duncan:
    first of all, I am not a specialist of political theory, but rather an IT and finance person – so take my assessment as that of a common reader.
    I like very much the categorizations of the archetypes. That’s very neat and easy to follow, imho also comprehensive.
    I do have some problems in understanding the “change strategies” (Pt. 3) though. Aren’t they rather the behavioral patterns resulting from what you call “systemic meta-theories” – like two sides of the same medal that could be put together?
    If you decided to put these two points together, it would also be possible to change “Systemic meta-theories” into a less pretentious term like “Change Strategy Streams” or “Change Frameworks”. What do you think?
    If you have questions, just reach out. You can also find me on Twitter: @nachrichtenlos

  3. Rosemary

    I was at an evaluation course at INCORE last week and learned about this great resource from Search for Common Ground:
    It has some very useful discussion about practical use of ToC in peacebuilding.
    Also, CDRA in Cape Town has a great model of social change involving emergent change, transformative change and projectable change. I think the emergent and transformative stages underlie the work done by local peacebuilders, on which projectable change builds. Still working on a ToC for this…

  4. Dear Duncan

    I like the thought: “theories”, rather than “theory” of change. At the same time, I wonder whether “theories” may not simply clog our understanding of how change really comes about in people and communities, or organizations? Would a focus on theories really be best for understanding change?

    My own experience suggests that it is disciplined work on change that helps one understand how the change process works. I am much more inclined to believe that a change practitioner challenges the changing situation to take responsibility for the choices they make, rather than insisting on changing the situation. Such “challenging” is aided by the kind of relationship that a practitioner is able to build with the situation through his or her “openness” and willingness to be vulnerable.

    Maybe that is my theory of change. In the typologies you have listed, it might be close to what you have called ‘dynamics’ where the focus is on the rhythm of the change itself, rather than specific drivers. Relationship is very rhythmic, even when there is some conscious management of it.

    Yet I must add that if it is a theory of change at all, it came out of many years of struggle and frustration with those who prefer to contract me to change the situation and proclaim results of change in line with “project” objectives. The struggle also involved quite a lot of subjecting myself to self-development/reflection and own change management. My starting point was probably some “theories” of development. Now, even as I write this, my question is probably changing: “To what extent is understanding and managing change helped by having a theory of change?”

    I think the reflection on change is a really good initiative, even for those who do not yet have their own theories of change. The Tanzanian newspaper: “Citizen” reports today the prime minister’s speech, which has acknowledged that abject poverty in many countries is partly a product of poor leadership. I wonder whether he is including Tanzania in that. So we need to address change at the levels of transforming practices (leadership, organizational, relationships) in order to instigate positive social change.

  5. Dear Duncan,

    I joined your blog just recently and am following your entries with great interest. The question of how change occurs and what kind of strategies can be pursued to push change in the ‘right’ direction is a fascinating and challenging one. My own research focuses on change (and continuity) in social policy in Latin America and I am therefore dealing with issues that are similar to those you raise. So here are some reflections spurred by the three categories you discuss. They are all very much related to policy change and may not necessarily apply to other change processes, in attitudes or organizations, for example (which raises another important question: the kind of change we are talking about perhaps also shapes our theories, but most certainly it shapes our strategies). The following are just some thoughts and may be a far cry from what you are actually looking for… but here we go:

    1. Why change happens (or fails to happen): context/structure, agency and ideas
    Although the terminology may seem dated to some, I think it may be helpful to distinguish between contextual, agential and ideational factors. All three can act as drivers of as well as obstacles to change. The specific content of each of these categories has to be filled on a case by case basis, but here are some examples. The range of contextual factors is broad. It includes economic, environmental, demographic and epidemiological—which in and of themselves do not determine the scope, pace or direction of change, but do form part of the overall scenario; and elderly care is likely to be on the agenda in contexts that face rapid demographic ageing, while they may be more difficult to push for in contexts where the population pyramid is still tilted towards the younger generation. Institutional arrangements that are already in place—and thus form part of the context—are often ‘path-dependent’ and difficult to change, not least because they empower groups who develop an interest in their continuity (take entrenched private sector interests in education, health or pension system that often make it equity-oriented reform more difficult). But the same arrangements can become illegitimate if they do not deliver (through a mechanism that is sometimes referred to as ‘negative feedback’) and thus become open to contestation and change. New ideas and social learning (from negative feedback or from the experience of others) can fuel this process. Take ideas about ‘social investment’ and ‘human capital’ formation which have spurred increased attention and policy activity around early childhood education and care across the OECD and in some developing countries. At the same time, ideas can serve to perpetuate the status quo (say, social norms regarding women’s place in society). While different theories of change place particular emphasis on one or the other factor, reality is often messy and it is precisely the interaction of the three that matters, i.e. how actors (whoever they are) respond to contextual opportunities and constraints or how they make use of new ideas. This is then how change happens (when it happens).

    2. How change happens (when it happens): Scope, speed and mechanisms/dynamic
    This refers, on the one hand, to the speed and scope of change we are looking at or looking for (rapid vs. gradual; radical vs. incremental). I suspect that under the current conditions it is the latter that we find most frequently, although particularly significant events (wars, regime breakdowns, etc.) can sometimes open avenues for more rapid and radical changes. On the other hand, it refers to the modes or mechanisms through which change is introduced (or the dynamics as you call it). Mahoney & Thelen’s (2010) collection Explaining Institutional Change, for example, identifies a set of modes of gradual change of existing institutions (layering, conversion, displacement, drift) from which actors choose strategically depending on the political context (strong/weak veto possibilities) as well as the characteristics of the targeted institution/policy (high/low levels of discretion in enforcement). The case study of health care reforms in Brazil in the same volume illustrates the strategy of health activists who by ‘subverting’ a relatively weak and fragmented system under authoritarian rule were able to push for universalization from within once democratization set in. Feedback effects, social learning, strategic framing are some of the other mechanisms that float around in the literature. I do believe that—at least analytically—mechanisms or dynamics are different from drivers or archetypes, but do not know whether this separation makes sense to change practitioners.

    3. What we do (and why we do it the way we do): Contingent decisions and cognitive frameworks
    Our assessment of who the relevant actors (e.g. elites, collectives or individuals), institutions (e.g. formal political, policy or informal social practices) and ideas are in a given place and moment may be highly contingent, but our underlying assumptions of how they operate and interact with each other are not. Our conception of actors, institutions and ideas at a more abstract/conceptually level is less a matter of evidence-based assessment than of underlying worldviews or cognitive frameworks (bearing similarity to what you describe under the heading systemic meta theories). This may sound rather abstract, but whether we assume our central actors to be rational/self-interested individuals or relational creatures, or whether we believe their decisions to be taken freely, determined by their context or embedded in complex social contexts and power relations, matters a great deal for our conception of change and the strategies we favor.

    Finally and more practically, I wanted to mention the book “Citizen action and national policy reform: Making change happen” edited by John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee (2010) full of insightful and encouraging examples of how change has happened in the past across a range of countries and issue areas (from Aids treatment to land redistribution to the reform of family law).

    Duncan: Thanks Silke, very useful, and I am also a fan of John Gaventa and Rosemary McGee’s work – see review here http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=2263

  6. I’m with PS Baker.

    Also, if a logframe is purely linear for any of you, you’re doing it wrong. It should look more like a mature tree when taken out of the boxes and connected with lines.

    This just goes to underline how poorly any theory can be applied when those doing it lack a fundamental understanding of how people get things done (and I am not, of course, referring to the blogger, who has no doubt suffered from reviewing many a poorly drawn-up logframe).

    “To what extent is understanding and managing change helped by having a theory of change?”

    In my opinion, not much. But then, I don’t think having a theory of sociology or psychology is helpful when trying to change behaviors of groups or individuals. Practical skill and experience matter much more than abstracts.

    “So we need to address change at the levels of transforming practices (leadership, organizational, relationships) in order to instigate positive social change.”

    I think that is tautological. What is positive social change if not transformed leadership, organizational practices, and individual relationships?

  7. Stuart

    Hi Duncan, I smiled when I read your blog, yes Theory of Change is the new fuzzword!!! I have been running ToC workshops for the past year in relation to a global advocacy campaign in a number of countries. What I have found is that the ToC process is not so much about actual change but a few other things. These are:

    • An M&E tool: To enable agencies to follow change over time. This enables agencies to assess whether change is occurring as it was envisaged and make adjustments where needed. It also allows agencies to show how their activities are contributing to the greater change needed to achieve the higher outcomes outside the control of that agency. This is especially true for those large I-NGOs that try to go it alone and spend large periods of time navel gazing.
    • Communication tool: A ToC is a powerful communication tool that can summarise how change is expected to occur in a one page diagram or text. Through showing how different steps lead to a desired outcome it can communicate to audiences beyond those implementing the project on how the work of a project or program will contribute to change.
    • Unifying tool: As a ToC is often undertaken by actors from different disciplines e.g. technical health or advocacy campaign or different levels, national or local, it enables participants to better understand how their work fits with other peoples work to lead toward a higher outcome.

    So in my experience the change that occurs through establishing a ToC is within and between groups even before it is tested on the real world. So for this reason a ToC process is particularly powerful.


  8. Jane Lonsdale

    I found the distinction between ‘systemic meta theories’ and archtypes really useful, and particularly the thinking that our own preferred meta theories can explain the different perspectives people have in developing approaches- or change strategies- to overcoming the same issues, which can create healthy debate. I also felt the examples of change strategies for each archtype listed was clear and useful, and could imagine using this in programme planning. It does though seem to focus on change through governance and advocacy, which may just be because of the change strategies examples given. But I wonder if the work would benefit from looking at it from other angles- e.g. theories of change in relation to economic development- which may just lead to different examples of change strategies for the existing archtypes, or could throw up new archtype categories? Either way, widening the examples could make it easier for development practitioners working in other sectors to apply the thinking to their work.

    Look forward to seeing how both the theories and work plan develop further.

  9. Isabel Vogel

    Hi Duncan,

    What a rich post, and some very interesting responses. I like the typology of ‘big’ theories of change, and the archetypes. This will help a lot with what I have found is the most difficult part of a theory of change analysis for people: surfacing and reflecting on their theories and beliefs about change, often deeply-held so hard to access.

    I agree with Jane that bringing in more angles on the archetypes could broaden the examples of strategies for practitioners to apply in programme design.

    Like Stuart, I have been facilitating ‘theory of change’ workshops a lot recently – for research organisations and programmes seeking to stimulate change through evidence (what you have termed ‘research-based advocacy’).

    In my experience, theory of change analysis is a powerful tool. It is rare to have a single process that can bring people together to generate such an integrated and rich overview of a strategy, initiative or programme and its intended outcomes in the world. Especially for research practitioners, ToC can help to build a reasonably solid bridge between today’s actions and a far-off goal.

    Something that is missing for me in your frameworks, and that I try to encourage in my workshops, is a focus on real people rather than abstract categories. People change and make change happen, so ‘change strategies’, need to be based on an analysis of who will change, who can facilitate that change, and who can collaborate to create momentum for the more systemic changes that have been talked about.

    It helps to add an analysis of people’s context, power and capacities to respond or take action. Deciding what you can do about those is a key step in the design of subsequent strategies and activities.

    In practical terms, developing theories of change can be a hard slog. A lot needs to go in it, so you often need to approach it in stages. As practitioners and action-oriented types, we usually know what we want to do and why – don’t we? It seems a lot of extra work to sit down and document it, especially the more complex theoretical bits.

    (I personally prefer taking a collaborative approach to develop a ToC, and working towards a visual representation of it, as I find it strengthens the shared understanding and communication benefits that Stuart highlighted.)

    However, in my experience, after the ToC analysis (even if it has been hard work) people feel refreshed and energised, with a renewed sense of purpose (more often than not, at least).

    Instead of a lot of detailed activities, a big leap of faith and then far-off lofty goals, people have identified tangible interim changes (outcomes) that are feasible and represent a convincing pathway.

    They can see how these outcomes can be achieved through manageable stages. They have the elements to design strategies and activities that have a good chance of stimulating real changes. For some people, there may even be a sense of how resilient their strategies might be in the face of complexity. Better still, there is the basis for a shared framework that can help with assessing progress, capturing learning and evaluation.

    My sense is, to keep it useful, a ToC ought to be periodically reflected on, adjusted and changed as reality unfolds and strategies adapt.

    Obviously, I am a fan of ToC, but of course, like any tool, it can be applied helpfully or rather less so. Over-complication is a risk here, so proportionality should be the guiding principle. It is also, as others have noted, more about thinking as a pre-cursor to action than actual action.

    But still, it is my experience that analysing and documenting your theory or theories of change – doing the thinking – can really help ‘change agents’ feel more confident that they are (mostly) doing the right sorts of things with the right people at roughly the right time – and enables them to reflect on what happens and adapt as they go. So it is worth the effort.

    I look forward to seeing what happens with all the activity in this area, and will follow your workplan with interest.

    P.S. A practical resource is ‘Developing a Theory of Change: a guide to developing a theory of change as a framework for inclusive dialogue, learning and accountability for social impact’, 2008, Keystone, http://www.hivos.nl/eng/content/download/19171/119312/file/Keystone%202%20Developing%20a%20theory%20of%20change.pdf
    Also useful are the resources that the Evidence-Based Policy in Development community pulled together, highlighted by Enrique http://www.ebpdn.org/.

  10. Isabel Vogel has added something very useful by mentioning the need to focus on the fact that people make change happen. The questions of “who will change..” who can facilitate change (or how it will be facilitated) and who will participate (collaborate) in creating momentum for the change, are extremely important.

    I am intrigued by this discussion as a practitioner in the field (Africa) where activities intended to influence change are increasingly determined and controlled by project funding frameworks and the new focus on capacity building. If you analyze the interventions and how results are harvested, it is clear that much of the focus is on changing managerial systems to increase efficiency, and very little on transforming culture or learning processes. Because of that, there is a whole lot invested in the ability of experts to drive the change process, conclude it and then neatly characterize it in a report. Within that approach–I don’t know who is taking responsibility for the theory of change that drives it–organizational and social development interventions do not mean much in terms of transforming practices at the levels of leadership, relationships or learning processes.

    My question seems to be changing here again. Maybe it is good for those involved in development work to be backed by a theory (not theories) of change. Making such theories of change explicit would bring more transparency and responsibility-taking, while moving toward shared frameworks in partnerships that would like to support development as a transformational agenda.

    Let me also go back to my previous thoughts in this discussion and appreciate how Elizabeth has underlined the fact that positive social change is necessarily manifested in transformed leadership, organizational practices and relationships. What I am not sure of is the extent to which that is obvious, particularly as we witness what is happening in the areas of organization and social development today. I think that Elizabeth should, without any inhibition, “tell it on the mountain”.

  11. Ian

    Hi Duncan. Great thought piece. I started writing a reply – but it turned into a blog post (sorry), the main point of which is that we need to recognize that theories are just theories and those we use and favour are heavily influenced by our background culture and training. Given this to be useful a theory both has to help predict and make decisions, but it also has to be plausible/acceptable to the people we seek to work with and sometimes these two are in opposition.
    Here’s the full post:

  12. I like the post but at the same time it is quite saddening. If ‘theory of change’ has become a fuzzword, what happened to the word ontology?

    It suggests what I’ve been suspecting for some time now. The Philosophy of Science, ontological and epistemological issues are not being taught any more!?

    That people use methodology and method synonymously today suggests the same thing.

    Anyway, if I’m right I should probably be happy that it is at least being brought back in. Now I just cross my fingers that it won’t be in a too low-brow form.

  13. Laurie Adams

    Interesting dialogue. Thanks everyone.

    Theory of change has been around as long as I have (and I’m on the other side of 40;)….what seems new is Theory of Change(TM) – e.g. theory of change not as the simple english words mean, but rather as a ‘tool’ or ‘method’, and even a specific tool and method. (The phrase was being kicked around when I was at OGB now over six years ago – I remember a quite nice list of I think it was six different ‘theories’ that we were encouraged to link our strategies too, can’t find it now but I think Becky Buell might have pulled it together, would help in your categorisation which is missing a few of them…) I think it is very necessary to be clear on what is the theory (you could also say assumptions) of how change happens that is guiding our intervention. Its the third loop in what I call ‘triple loop monitoring’ – did we do things right, did we do the right things, but then was our assumption of what the right thing was correct? Otherwise we are in danger of being too blindly ideological. But I too am getting a bit concerned about how its being applied through a linear logic chain model and searching for other ways we can be more transparant and critically reflective on our advocacy strategies (and change strategies more generally). So, off to read all the links folks have provided – thanks again!

  14. Lieke Ruijmschoot

    Thanks – I like how you demystify a concept that is indeed a buzzword or seen as a panacea by some but understood by few, and have classified it into some more concrete categories that we can recognise. Helpful!

  15. Interesting article. Not surprisingly, the focus is almost exclusively on “how do I/we change the world” and not on “how do I change myself.” The rabbis of the Talmud taught that those who do not work in the spiritual realms are doomed to work in the political/material realms.” To modernize this statement: “those who think they can change the world without first changing how we understand the world, and ultimately changing the nature of human consciousness, are doomed to failure.”
    A simple example: the acceleration of global warming in the last 40 years is directly related to responsible social/political action that led to pollution controls on industrial processes. Prior to those controls, pollution, ironically, constrained global warming by reflecting solar energy.
    A ToC that is simply reactive is not ToC at all. It is simply more engineered manipulation on grander and grander scales, creating grander and grander reactions and unintended responses.

  16. Dear Feedblizt (Duncan Green?)
    Thanks for a great post. I am currently teaching (yes that means face-to-face) a class of MBA students on the subject of “Contemporary Issues in Managing Change” at the University of South Australia.
    I hope you don’t mind that I have posted your email/blog to our discussion forum (with proper acknowledgement) to stimulate discussion on ‘critical thinking’ in management of change.
    Yours sincerely,
    Dr. Colin A. Sharp

  17. Gail Hochachka

    Hi Duncan, I really enjoyed this. I read it as I awoke this morning, and it renewed my sense of how much I love the work I do in working these multifaceted dynamics of change (working with NGOs both in community development, but also larger scale systems change involving sustainable development and more recently with the private sector value chains towards greater sustainability). A quick thought that I wanted to share with you: How and where does shifting consciousness come in to this framework you have shared? I can see how it is a ‘cross-cutting theme’ and is woven into every one of these archetypes and their change practices, and yet it could also be it’s own archetype, with it’s own change practices. I’d be curious to hear your reactions to that. For us, it is a central component of an effective change strategy, and we tend to work with it implicitly (as a cross-cutting theme) and also explicitly (either within some of the change practices listed here, or in ones that are not listed here). This is a thought-provoking piece, and I hope you get some funding to take it further. All the best, Gail

  18. Cheryl Whitelaw

    Hi Duncan,

    Great thread started – thanks to all the contributors so far. One thing I would offer that I haven’t seen in the prior postings is to note that in the past, in the practice of evaluation by organizations with varying levels of expertise, theory of change has been flattened to mean the methodology used to articulate, monitor and report on change – so various logic models. If for this online discussion we can hold theory of change to mean more simply our explanation, sourced from systematic knowledge, knowledge from the field of practice, from funders guidelines or definitions of the issue or problem, from operational or specially gathered evidence – then one of the pertinent questions that can be asked is, “how do we know what we know” about the situation we want to enact change upon. I am influenced by work done by myself and others using “developmental evaluation” in which the models and instruments to articulate theories of change are used with a consciousness of the need to continuous learn about the complex phenomena we want to change either directly or indirectly. So part of a discussion of theory of change models is – how do our models support our ongoing learning of the phenomenon we want to change? A meta-frame that can be useful to map complex, dynamic phenomena is the AQAL model – particularly the quadrants component that looks at phenomenon as individual/internal reality, as individual external reality, as collective interior norms, cultures and as collective external realities such as the environment, systems, processes, etc. In a recent project to increase inclusion at a College, we used a developmental approach with the AQAL map to understand what the focus of change was, the nature of the change by quadrant – this allowed us to hold as a whole many activities and outcomes within a larger picture or theory of change. So my points to sum up – people involved in change-making need to include their own learning processes in their theory of change so change is both out there and in here and a meta frame like the AQAL can help hold multiple linearities of change action in a way that allows for a field-level order of change to be observed as an indirect product of change action. All the best with your work.

    • Gail Hochachka

      Very interesting Cheryl. We use the AQAL model in several different change projects on several different continents, and it has become a central piece to our theory of change actually. It was great to happen upon seeing your comment here. Which College are you referring to, and where are you based? All the best, Gail

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