The practice of ToC: behavioural change as a miracle
In practice, we see all kinds of Theories of Change, and one thing that is obvious to me, as someone who has worked in the field of planning for development interventions for more than 30 years, is that these theories are often too simplistic. We do things (implement our intervention strategy), and hurray, the stakeholders will, almost miraculously, change their behaviour. Considering that ToC has become a popular planning approach, because it would mean embracing complexity, this unrealistic expectation seems to be a bit strange.
Pathways of Change and assumptions
The ToC development process focuses on developing change pathways based on conditions for it, which represent the desired or necessary behaviour of various stakeholders to reach a jointly agreed-upon vision of success (impact).
After that, we develop the assumptions underlying these pathways. In short, the reasons why we think stakeholders will change their behaviour. We also describe further pre-conditions concerning the envisioned change.
In this process, we often do not give sufficient attention to the following questions:
1. Do stakeholders want to change their behaviour? What is in it for them?
2. Can they change their behaviour, even if they really want to?
I think these questions are critical for developing a good ToC. The answer depends mainly on the environment in which the stakeholders operate and their capabilities. We, therefore, suggest doing a sound stakeholder analysis as part of the ToC development process, especially when it comes to the contextualisation of a ToC (from a generic to a country-specific ToC), as stakeholder ecosystems are very context-specific.
Our Stakeholder Analysis approach is called SHA 2.0 and has 2 steps.
1. Identify and map the stakeholders according to power and interest concerning a change objective or process. This step is about jointly determining:
• If stakeholder interests are affected negatively, positively or neutrally. Even though neutrally seems contradictory to the stakeholder concept, yet when we talk about neutral, we think of those essential stakeholders in a change process. Who does not seem to directly have a stake in the change process itself (e.g. universities researching how change processes affect specific groups of people)?
• If they are powerful or not.
In our SHA approach, we use a 6-box rather than the usual 4-box diagram that sheds light on the potential opponents or potential allies that are in the change process. We say potential, as the actual behaviour may be different from what you would expect based on assessing their power and interest. Actual conduct depends on the stakeholder environment.
2. Digging deeper. During this second phase, the focus is on exploring the stakeholder environment. It is about understanding the game's rules (the playing field) and the game within the rules (how stakeholders operate and manoeuvre). It is also about further analysing power and interests. What is the basis of their power? What other interests do stakeholders have that are not directly related to the change process we focus on? What is the relative importance of these other interests? This will help you redesign your strategy (and manoeuvre politically, as well).
Having gone through these SHA 2.0 steps, you may conclude that:
- You may have overlooked fundamental stakeholders in your ToC.
- You will have to adapt your pathways of change to the specific context.
- You will have identified new assumptions.
- You will have to adjust your intervention strategy (doing different things, focusing on other stakeholders).
- You may have to modify your partnership strategy.
- You may have identified stakeholder issues as well as specific stakeholder relations that need to be monitored.
- You will need to regularly do a stakeholder analysis, as contexts and stakeholders change.