I’ve written previously about the value of Phil Driver’s OpenStratgies approach as a framework for identifying benefits and measuring whether projects and programmes actually make any difference. To be blunt “most benefits aren’t“. There are any number of frameworks around, particularly in the Third Sector, which are used (and in some cases, required – by funders – to be used) to show how “interventions lead to positive outcomes. Theory of Change is one of the most popular and a recent article led to an interesting conversation with Phil Driver about the muddled thinking and woolly language that is sometimes used with the ToC model.
According to Wikipedia, ToC describes “the set of assumptions that explain both the mini-steps that lead to the long-term goal of interest and the connections between program activities and outcomes that occur at each step of the way.”
I asked Phil for his thoughts and this was his reply:
I’ve been aware of Theory of Change for some time. It seems to me to be less rigorous than OS and doesn’t appear to result in a ‘strategy’ which is as directly able to be validated and implemented as one of our SubStrategies. Also, many strategies require a strong (and appropriate) emphasis on the status quo rather than an emphasis on ‘change’. Indeed I find that far too many people expect ‘strategies’ to be ‘innovative/creative/different’ whereas in my experience, most strategies need to first clarify what an organisation or entity is currently doing and then build on that, albeit allowing room for totally new concepts.
So ‘change’, to me, is not a particularly helpful concept. What’s more important is to understand the current situation and the desired future situation and help all stakeholders understand it and be motivated to move from the start to the finish. IMHO if all stakeholders really understand this then they will largely make the changes themselves. So things like ‘leadership’ and ‘change management’ are primarily required in situations where there is a lack of stakeholder understanding about what the heck the organisation is trying to do. Once people know what they’re supposed to be doing and when ‘management’ makes sure they have the necessary resources, then most people just get-on-with-it, at which point ‘leadership’ etc become much less necessary. So when I see large sums of money being invested in ‘leadership’ or ‘change’ I shudder because most of it is wasted and would be unnecessary if organisations had well understood strategies. But I would say that wouldn’t I….?
In my opinion, OpenStrategies cuts through the ambiguity and confusion caused by sloppy use of language by some proponents of ToC. They bandy about words like “mission”, “impacts”, targets”, “goals”, “outcomes”, “inputs and “outputs”; often using them seemingly interchangeably with no thought for the confusion they are spreading. OpenStrategies uses a powerful but simple structure:
Organisations carry out Projects which produce “Results”. If somebody “Uses” these Results, then “Benefits” are derived. There are no Benefits without Uses and a Result is never a Benefit!
Here’s an example of how OpenStratgeies demonstrates the links that have to be in place between Projects and Benefits: