Beginning with the end in mind

The Theory of Change approach to writing communications strategies

Back by popular demand! Here’s a copy of the blog post that I wrote for the Directory of Social Change for the Charity Writing and Communications training days in 2015 – now to be re-run for the 2016 training days.

Everyone I know who works in charity communications is busy. Most things a charity does end up on the communications desk in some form. It’s what makes this area of work fascinating, stimulating, creative – and busy. Add in that the ‘comms person’ may also be wearing several other hats and you get… even busier.

And it is notoriously difficult to ‘measure’ the effectiveness of communications, right? It’s just not possible to work out who might have read the last two Tweets and three newsletters you sent out, whether they were talked about at lunch and whether anyone did anything. And besides, you’re just too busy…

So best to keep busy. Someone is bound to see those messages at some point. Stack ‘em high and send them out!

The Theory of Change alternative

Well there is an alternative. A Theory of Change is a diagram that shows the logical cause and effect relationships between the inputs (resources in terms of time, money and people), the activities that the inputs allow you to carry out, and the differences those activities are intended to lead to – outputs (functions that you can measure easily) and outcomes (longer term changes).

There are some great examples of organisations using Theory of Change, like this one from Sightsavers.

From busy to purposeful

A strategy is a plan that sets out your activities and their intended impact. A Theory of Change puts that information in a clear diagram. Tick.

Its particular genius when applying it to communications strategies, in my opinion, is that it aligns communications activities with wider organisational outputs (and outcomes). So if your output is to have 10,000 young people taking part in a project then you can line up the communications activities that you believe will drive participation. Events, competitions, newsletters, and reaching out to schools and youth clubs might all go into a communications strategy under that outcome.

You can read about a communications strategy I drew up for The Reading Agency using a Theory of Change model.

Measuring how you are doing

The depiction of the logical cause and effect relationships between activities and outputs in a Theory of Change model, means that it is much clearer to see which communications activities are intended to achieve which results.

Track website, e-newsletter and social media analytics each month and map them against activities such as event attendance, participation numbers and online engagement. If some communications activities are not contributing to the desired outputs then stop doing those and do more of the activities that are. Or try new communications approaches.

Who knew? Communications do not reside with the dark arts but cohabit with the science of strategy, monitoring and evaluation. (Although establishing links between communications activities and outcomes often require a little more work – and a separate blog.)

Find out more at the How to write a brilliant communications strategy and How to evaluate communications workshops at the DSC Charity Writing and Communications Training Day on 30 October.

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