Notes on the Theory of Change and how to re-think, re-order and re-make a social change

Mariana Quiroga
May 9, 2016 · 4 min read

Have you ever felt that you drown in a puddle? Have you ever been so immersed in something that having a fresh perspective is a challenge? If you love the detail and you stick in the granular I have good news; The theory of change (aka ToC) can get you out of the deeper waters and take you afloat.

One day Peter Ptashko appeared in Cirklo’s offices, with his British accent and a recent tan from his honeymoon in the Caribbean. Peter led 9 members of Cirklo in a generative ToC workshop. We started with three projects of social and environmental change within which we define the following missions:

  • Open Government Project: promote new ways of citizen participation for the creation of public policies in Mexico.
  • Define lines of action to achieve the desired impact of the Cirklo Social 2016 mission.
  • Establish within a company with products packaged in plastic for mass consumption, a goal percentage of internal initiatives in order to achieve closed loop cycles in their packaging for 2020.

ToC is applicable in entrepreneurship, social investments, intrapreneurship in companies and institutions, and projects with social and environmental impact.

“The theory of change is an illustration of how and why a desirable social change can happen in a particular context.”

For 5 things:

  • Understand the why and why of a change project.
  • Tell the story of the project. It is a communication tool.
  • Detect potential partners and build alliances.
  • Measure the performance of a project and evaluate its results. It is a measurement tool.
  • To make better decisions.
Registro grafico por Susy Tort

How do I apply the theory of change?

Start by choosing a specific project that you want to work on. Take a card and see the response to the following 10 points:

  1. Define the mission of your project, and its purpose — be specific:

Why does the project exist? What are we doing?

2. Consider the context in which your project is located:

What are the social, economic, technological, environmental and political barriers that it faces?

3. Write the expected results of this project (outcomes) in a certain time frame. The results can be short, medium or long term.

4. Escribe los resultados esperados de este proyecto (outcomes) en un marco de tiempo determinado. Los resultados pueden ser a corto, mediano o largo plazo.

5. List the key activities that have to happen to arrive at the expected result. Be specific in your answers:

What activities must happen to reach each result?

6.Reflect and identify the assumptions you have had throughout the process. Above all ask yourself what preconceived ideas you have around the results and activities (in step 5).

What assumptions are stopping or driving me?

7. It details what inputs (inputs) you need for each activity and what your results are (outputs).

What inputs do I need for each activity? What results do I obtain with each activity?

8. Defines the 5 key actors involved in the project.

Who are the 5 key actors? How are they involved or how will I involve them?

9. Sort, group and / or draw the information: expected results, activities, assumptions, actors, inputs and results.

10. Develop indicators of your impact, these are the signals that show you if you are reaching the desired impact.

Which indicators mark the trajectory of progress towards the project’s mission?

Once you have everything reflected on your card, take the opportunity to share your project with someone else and open a space for dialogue and reflection.

What are the three aspects that surprised you most during this process? Why? How do they help you make more informed decisions?

At the end of the workshop our cards looked like this:

Open Government Project
Project by Cirklo Social
Project of closed loop cycles

How did ToC help us re-think?

At the end of the workshop each team shared their work and the line of thought that accompanied them throughout the process. ToC helped us to:

  • Tell the project’s story.
  • Identify collaboration spaces and potential interaction with actors.
  • Define our success metric
  • Understand the space of interference we have on the project and what are the conditions that are beyond our reach.

By sharing a project in a structured and global way, a fresh vision is generated that opens a space to re-think, re-order and re-do from a new perspective.

If you’re still reading, you are a hero and we would love to hear from you. Feel free to answer these questions or share other experiences in the comments.

Have you used ToC?

What other tools have you used to measure social impact or innovation?

Originally published at on May 9, 2016.

Mariana Quiroga

Written by

restorative yoga teacher at sunrise | @CirkloMx innovation strategist during the day | cosmic dancer all day long | English & Español |