“A theory of change defines all building blocks required to bring about a given long-term goal.”
It can help you think about, plan, deliver and evaluate a programme effectively, maximising the chance of it achieving its hoped-for long-term aims.
The building blocks of a theory of change include:
- The problem or opportunity to be addressed by the plan.
- Long-term aims: the main change/s you want to see long-term from the programme.
- Outcomes: medium-term changes that happen as a result of the programme, and that support the long-term aim/s.
- Outputs: short-term, direct and measurable ‘products’ that happen as a result of the programme (what the programme ‘puts out’).
- Inputs: what you put into the programme to achieve the outputs.
- Assumptions: your own theories about the relationships between what you do and what you want to achieve.
Using this approach for a residential programme means schools start by identifying an issue or set of issues that could be addressed through a residential, for example an element of the school improvement plan or a concern/need highlighted by class teachers, subject/phase teams or pastoral staff. The residential planning team then agrees aims and outcomes (long- and medium-term changes) they want to see in their school or in particular young people, and plans backwards; rather than starting with ‘let’s go on a trip to…’ they choose a setting and activities (inputs) that give the best chance of achieving their aims.
The planning team also records the assumptions they make about how they think change will happen so they can test these both during and after the residential. This testing means that any mistakes in the team’s thinking will be identified and plans can be adjusted for future residentials, maximising their impact.