The big question is: How to shape this?

Last week we introduced you to the Theory of Change (ToC). An approach to shape impact-oriented working. In this second article, we discuss the conditions for this. In the third article, we explain how to stay on track towards impact.

Conditions for working impact-oriented

A ToC can be seen as the foundation for your organisation in order to work towards impact. We see the following three conditions to implement this:
1.    Consistency in the programme structure
2.    Stimulating effect thinking among employees
3.    Appropriate support from the management information system




Consistency in the programme structure

A ToC provides an overarching and shared picture of the change the joint parties want to work towards. See it as an umbrella, a guiding expression of the dreamed (desired) change and which conditions are necessary to achieve this. It is important the interventions, projects and/or programmes consistently arise from this overall vision.
Each organisation will want to position itself strategically in determining which interventions will be developed. Who are you, what is your mandate and where do you have the most influence? The focus, influence and degree of control are important criteria for choosing what your organisation will focus on. But also, what the other will focus on. After all, you can only achieve the desired change – impact – together.
Various methods can be used to program your strategic priority. We prefer to work with the Logical Framework. This helps you to structure the intervention in an effect or result chain (impact ← outcome ← output ← actions) with accompanying indicators and relevant environmental factors. The big advantage of a Logical Framework is that you can easily compare programmes with each other, see where they overlap or perhaps enrich each other and how they jointly lead to the shared impact. We call this the Theory of Action.
We hope this clarifies that a result chain and a ToC are two different things. The result chain is the translation of the change vision into an implementation programme.

Stimulating effect thinking

We are used to holding people accountable for what they do or have done, often by means of critical performance indicators (KPIs). This is only partly relevant in impact-oriented working. It is much more important that you know what your action has led to. What have your activities and results contributed to? What was the effect?
Together with your employees, find out how you can achieve meaningful effects. Encourage them to think about the desired effect of their actions. The effect is the contribution to the desired impact. This requires a change from thinking in result chains to thinking in effect chains. In a result chain, you perform activity 1 and activity 2. Together these lead to the planned result, often determined within a specific project management. In an effect chain you map out the expected short-term effects of your actions. Then you think about how this can lead to medium and long-term effects, determined from your sphere of influence. Together, you will investigate how you can manoeuvre strategically in order to capitalise the short-term effects to create long-term effects. And thus contribute to the desired ultimate impact.

Appropriate system support

Impact-oriented working requires a good management information system (MIS). A system suitable for registering the connections between what you do and what it leads to. One that maps out which effects you want to achieve and which have been achieved. A system aimed at monitoring the relationships between the conditions (goals) and the desired impact.
Of course this includes good indicators. Another advantage of working with the Logical Framework. This provides an excellent tool for formulating indicators appropriate for the set goals.
In the MIS you describe the desired impact and how often you will evaluate. You capture the social changes to which your organisation contributes and how you will monitor this change.
You then determine which outcomes − main goals − contribute to the impact. These goals are described in expected behaviour of actors. You use outcome indicators, which enable you to observe and specify this behaviour.
Finally, you name the output indicators. This concerns your contribution to the behavioural change of the actors. What influence have we had on this behaviour and what have we achieved to influence this behaviour?
The output indicators help you determine whether you have been successful in achieving your project or programme results. The outcome indicators help you to establish whether the intended short and long-term (social) effects have occurred.
Setting up such a MIS logically helps you to stay on track towards impact by using the data and information the system provides for monitoring, evaluation and learning. More about that in the third article.

By Anne Marie van Raalten-Ligtenberg, Senior trainer & Consultant at MDF Training & Consultancy. Views expressed here are my own.


Article 1: Bringing your dreamed impact closer, but how?
Article 3: After creating the ToC: How to stay on track towards impact