why do we theorise in isolation from each other?

adrian ashton
3 min readJul 23, 2020

Over the last few years, there’s been growing encouragement for the charity and social enterprise world to uptake the ‘theory of change’ approach more.

For many who approach this model of thinking and presenting how you work for the first time, it appears daunting with a lot of jargon, technical diagrammes, and an apparent infinite number of ways to ‘do it’…

But ultimately, it boils down to what (finally) got me through my maths exam — showing your workings out: laying out in a (hopefully simple and logical manner) why you’re doing what you’re doing so that anyone can understand it, and (hopefully) get behind it (and you) more.

As I’ve alluded to above, there are lots of examples and models out there — but as sometime who delivers training and learning around this, as starting points I usually recommend 2 templates to start:

1) The ‘DIY’ toolkit approach, developed by NESTA, and profiled by Innovation for Change:

2) and this framework developed and agreed with The Treasury and DCLG as part of a national programme:

And the reason I suggest using these, rather than come up with something from scratch, is:

(a) it’s easier to get started by using an existing template, and

(b) the provenance of these frameworks is pretty ‘sound’, and as such, it means that whomever you share your Theory with subsequently will find it easier to take it more seriously.

But it strikes me that there’s a huge problem with all of the guidance, training, consultancy, and such like, that all of the websites, sector bodies, and expert consultancies seem to have missed — and in doing so, means that the Theories created will always be stunted and never really have the transformative impact they’re seeking to realise.

And the thing that seems to be missing is recognising that whichever charity, social enterprise, or other creating their Theory, isn’t operating or exists in a bubble — they’re co-located, work closely with other groups and services, and the people they support will be being impacted and engaged with by other organisations in parallel to themselves… and this is also something which the principles of reporting social impact and value already recognise: do not over claim — the people we support will also be being supported by other services, groups, and activities.

So if recognising that our creation of impact and benefit to people in need is co- and inter- dependant upon others, why aren’t we encouraged to develop our Theories with them (or at the very least, do a ‘sanity check’ of them, by sharing them with our key audiences and partners)..?

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