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By: Alia Khan
Having had multiple opportunities to develop and articulate theories of change, I have come to understand it as a technical term for making visible and explicit the assumptions, motivations, rationale behind what we do and why.
Within the past five years “theory of change” has been promoted and popularized by some of the world’s largest charitable foundations as a way for social change organizations to describe and evaluate their work. Look around, and you’ll find social service and mission-driven NGOs of all sizes and shapes espousing their “theory of change” in funding proposals and promotional materials. Private foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have invested heavily in developing “theory of change” tools for existing and potential grantees, drawing on the services of private sector-oriented management consulting powerhouses such as McKinsey & Company.
The reflections in this document are based on Kahn’s experiences over the past five years utilizing “theory of change” as a construct for strategic planning and proposal development for NGOs involved in social change work. It was prompted by a Hivos-sponsored virtual dialogue that posed the question “what is ‘Theory of Change thinking’ and its added value.”
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