Theory of Change


In everything we do, our work is always focused on achieving sustainable results. In order to realize this, we follow a sustainability approach called ‘FIETS’. FIETS stands for Financial, Institutional, Environmental, Technical and Social sustainability. This year, the WASH Alliance has invested a lot of time and energy in strengthening the ‘institutional’ principle of our sustainability approach.

As part of this, we introduced a Theory of Change approach to our partners in the eight countries in which we are active. This Theory of Change approach helps us to explain why we do the things we do in a more explicit and coherent manner, particularly in the context of multi-actor cooperation.

What is a ‘Theory of Change’?

A Theory of Change (ToC) is an explicit presentation of the assumptions about how changes are expected to happen within any particular context and in relation to a particular intervention. A theory of change maps out which actors have to do what in order to achieve and sustain a vision of success, and identifies the major linkages between them. It is a coherent set of ideas that takes you from the initial situation you want to change towards the desired results through a number of steps. It first describes the problem, then what the change should be and how this process should take place, followed by what makes this change happen and what needs to be done to do so, who needs to be involved and who’s interests are at stake, leading to the desired results or outcomes of the change process.

Why was it introduced to the WASH Alliance?

The approach is new to most organisations collaborating within the Wash Alliance and their local partner organisations. But after introducing the strengths and opportunities that the ToC approach offers us, it was decided that a combination of introducing the ToC approach while at the same time strengthening the actual planning of local Wash Alliances was the best way forward. Strengthening the coherence and the understanding of the national programs by all partners is the purpose of this exercise.

How does it work?

A Theory of Change approach helps users to think of why we do the things we do in a more explicit and coherent manner- particularly in the context of multi-actor cooperation. It invites users to strengthen their analysis of the issues they are working on by jointly defining a common vision of the change process and translating this vision in concrete and understandable steps. By doing so, users develop a ‘logical’ pathway of change and these pathways can be connected to one another.

Pathway FoC Ghana model-01













Assumptions are key to the ToC approach

The most important element of a ToC approach is that we clarify through discussions the assumptions that we all have about how and why changes will occur as a result of what we are doing. These assumptions often remain unmentioned and unidentified. That often leads to a situation in which organisations and people involved in complex change processes think that others have the same logic they have, have the same experiences on which they base the same expectations about change realisation. We know that this is not the case. Different parties involved in multi stakeholder processes have different experiences, and have different expectations.  If we don’t make these explicit all kinds of misunderstandings and even conflicts between actors might happen. Only if we make our assumptions explicit can they become discussed clarified, and if needed can become part of the monitoring of the expected changes of our joint work.

In 2013, the ToC approach was introduced in all eight countries we are working in simultaneously with the annual planning exercise. We are very excited about the Theory of Change and feel confident it gives us a great opportunity to make the change in the world we set out to make and of demonstrating our successes and lessons along the way.

By Hettie Walters and Jantien Bult, ICCO 

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