Over the last few years, as we work more in the social innovation space, our practice has been fruitfully challenged. Ten years ago the majority of our work focused on programs. Increasingly, as evaluators, we provide services across initiatives working towards effecting system changes. Our toolkits have had to expand with our work and we are continually sharpening our skills – and even becoming more agile!

Our theory of change toolkit has, as a result, greatly expanded. We have learnt new approaches to developing a theory of change and now see that having just one approach in your toolkit is no longer enough. We draw on a number of top-down, bottom-up and ‘lateral’ approaches to match where clients are on the ‘life cycle’ (design, planning, implementation etc.), the nature of their work, and the drivers for developing a Theory of Change.

For example, one of the approaches we now regularly use is what we call ‘global theory of change’. It is different to other approaches in that it maps what needs to change (outcomes) to achieve a desired societal-level outcome and is unprioritised. It is not concerned with who does what or what money you have to invest, but draws on expert knowledge to understand the required pre-conditions for achieving a given change.

The global theory of change approach has been useful in helping social innovators, amongst others, to interrogate their theories about what needs to change in a system, where they might intervene in a system, and understand the key interdependencies within the system in relation to a given societal-level outcome. It can also act as a canvas from which we can identify smaller pieces of the system to work on whilst retaining an eye on the whole.

There are many more approaches; see our think piece – agile theory of change for system change endeavours – and tell us about the ones you are using.