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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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While this example is from domestic U.S. policy advocacy, it illustrates the uses of Theory of Change for planning, monitoring and evaluation.

In 1996 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation decided to work on welfare reform and health care issues by forming the Devolution Initiative. Through 2001, the Initiative supported 30 national and state research, policy, and advocacy organizations, and teams of minority researchers and community organizers, to work together — with a particular focus in five states (Florida, Mississippi, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin) — on three primary goals. Read more »

Your Theory of Change: The Key to Evaluation

A theory of change is one of your most valuable resources for evaluating the effectiveness of your advocacy efforts. A theory of change is just what it says: a theory about how your actions will influence change. This change could be a change in policy, attitude, or public will. The change, when it occurs, will lead to your desired advocacy goal.

You may have heard other terms like logic model, blueprint or theory of action; all of these are tools for mapping how you will reach your ultimate goal. Theories of change are based on assumptions, or in other words, they are your best guess about what inputs or activities will lead to desired results and benchmarks.

Some organizations and coalitions are content with “broad stroke” theories of change. For example, “Targeting Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 with information and e-advocacy tools will put pressure on Congress to address climate change.” While this theory may be true or completely off-base, the real problem is that this theory of change does not give you much to work with. There are many assumptions embedded in this statement regarding the audience's level of interest in the issue of global warming; the resonance of e-advocacy; the willingness of the audience to take actions; and the response of Congress to e-advocacy, for example.

Take a look at this small section of a theory of change for using e-advocacy to put pressure on Congress to increase spending on foreign assistance. Notice how each arrow indicates an assumption about the activity the coalition is implementing.

  • The left hand column contains the “implementation theory” or the action and activities your organization or coalition will conduct.
  • The right hand column contains the “advocacy theory,” the intended results you assume will happen.
  • Each of the arrows, or assumptions, is a place where your theory can break down.

Does it sound like we are making this seem too complicated? Or more difficult than it really is? Just look at the first arrow connecting “Send action e-mail to network” and “E-mail arrives in constituent inbox.” The assumptions embedded in this one step include: The -email address is correct; constituents have added your campaign to the “Do Not Block” or “Safe” list to prevent erroneous filing in the “junk” folder. Indicators such as the bounce-back rate and test e-mails to major account servers could help you to assess this one step.

Theory of Change

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Following this theory of change can pinpoint the exact point where your theory does not work and help you to correct the problem during the advocacy campaign instead of continuing with the same strategy. The section on monitoring benchmarks and indicators during your campaign and checking in with your theory of change will use this example for actual evaluation purposes.



  • Take the time to put all of your steps into the model. When all of your advocacy assumptions are out in the table—no matter how small—your evaluation will be more precise. You will be able to react more quickly and more appropriately to indicators that you are going astray and keep your efforts on track.
  • Real-time feedback is another reason to invest the time in building out your theory of change. The theory can help you map your advocacy activities directly to evaluation mechanisms such as indicators and benchmarks.