Using Theory of Change to develop marketing and comms strategies

Example of strategy map using Theory of Change

Example of strategy map using Theory of Change

We have been doing a lot of work recently using Theory of Change to develop integrated marketing and communications strategies – and fundraising strategies too!

Theory of Change grew out of the NGO world from funders such as DFID who needed organisations to clearly demonstrate how their activities delivered the programme outcomes and outputs. And there are some great examples of organisations using Theory of Changes, like this one from Sightsavers.

What is a Theory of Change?

A Theory of Change is generally a diagram that shows the logical relationship between the inputs (resources in terms of time, money and people) that an organisation puts into an area of work, the activities that those inputs allow them to carry out and the differences that the activities are intended to lead to – the outputs (functions that you can measure easily) and outcomes (longer term changes).

Theory of Change and relevance to comms, marketing and fundraising

For us a Theory of Change approach has many advantages. It is a great tool for ensuring that there is a logical link between inputs, activities and outputs and outcomes. The logic of these relationships can be lost sometimes when using narrative-only approaches to strategy writing. For communications, in particular, that can sometimes be viewed as an area of work that is ‘difficult to measure’, showing how communications activities relate to the wider outputs can be very helpful. We see many communications teams being extremely busy but without a clear idea about the purpose of the communications. A Theory of Change lines up the communications activities to the intended outputs and changes.

Once you have captured the main activities in a strategy map, the detail can be worked out in what we tend to call the ‘implementation plan’. We use a spreadsheet for this. We find that this is a powerful management tool allowing teams to work through in practice the activities that are needed and when they need to be delivered. It reveals times when there may be ‘bottlenecks’ and when additional resources may be needed.

Sample activities log from Theory of Change

Sample activities log from Theory of Change

Monitoring and evaluation

When we use a Theory of Change approach to developing strategy we also put together a scorecard of the metrics that will be used to measure the success, or otherwise, of the activities in the Theory of Change. This is typically a mixture of quantitative metrics (website visits, social media engagement, participation levels, etc.) alongside qualitative data like survey results, interviews and other feedback from participants.

Using a Theory of Change in tandem with a scorecard means that activities can be measured regularly. If it is found that they are not achieving the desired results then the activities can be changed without needing to alter the higher levels of programme outputs and outcomes.

Sample scorecard

Theory of Change application

Theory of Change is a very flexible tool that can be used to write strategies for organisations and at individual programmes. It is possible to include activities from different organisation functions – communications, marketing, fundraising, service delivery, advocacy – within a Theory of Change or several Theories of Change.

We’ve been using a Theory of Change approaches with The Reading Agency, Engineers Without Borders, Adfam and Alzheimer’s Society.

If you would like to know more then please get in touch – we are always happy to chat.

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