Writing the Theory of Change for Global Affairs Canada

The Theory of Change section in Global Affairs Canada’s (GAC) proposal template is relatively new and what is required in the Theory of Change can change from one call for proposals to the next. It can be daunting to write the Theory of Change when so many critical components of the project need to be considered and included in this section. Below, we are sharing some of our process and tips for writing the Theory of Change:

Salanga works with organizations to write proposals and strengthen their projects and is the proud founder of Kinaki an online monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL) tool. Kinaki can be used for FREE by any individual or organization to develop their logic model and PMF. It is especially useful for teams who are working remotely to revise and update the logic model collaboratively during the proposal writing process. Enough about us, back to the Theory of Change tips!

1. Read the instructions thoroughly

Read the call for proposals and application form thoroughly. This is the obvious and crucial first step as these documents provide clear direction for what must be included in your logic model – which the foundation of the Theory of Change – and the particular gaps and vulnerable populations that your project must address to be considered for funding.

Also, as mentioned in our introduction, the instructions for writing the Theory of Change may be different in this application form than the last application you worked on. Read it carefully to ensure you know what needs to be included in this section.

2. Develop and understand your Logic Model

A well-written Theory of Change can only be borne out of a project that has been designed with very clear logic and understanding of how change should happen and how the results will be achieved. Develop your project Logic Model, ensuring that it includes the ultimate outcome and at least two of the intermediate outcomes described in the call.

3. Identify and describe your assumptions

One of the first key steps in describing your Theory of Change is to describe the assumptions that informed the project design. Here are some good questions for you to answer to help you articulate your assumptions:

  • Why will this particular set of activities/outputs/outcomes contribute to the desired ultimate outcome? Be clear about the assumptions you are making about the relevance, feasibility, effectiveness and sustainability of the project strategies you use.
  • What am I assuming about the cause and effect relationships between my different level of results statements?  ( Hivos ToC Guidelines provides a great example of this: I might assume that female small-scale farmers will be able to supply to regional markets if they have access to credit and market information’, or that ‘community dialogues will change people’s attitudes towards domestic violence (which in turn will change their behaviour)’. However, the causal links may only be valid when certain conditions are in place. If so, what are those conditions and how can the project support/monitor them? 
  • What am I assuming about the needs, capacities, motivation and behaviour of project stakeholders? What am I assuming about the relationships between key actors?
  • On the basis of what evidence, knowledge, experiences or impressions am I making my assumptions?

GAC requests that the first section/paragraph in the Theory of Change is one that describes how the intermediate outcomes will lead to the ultimate outcome. It is not as simple as stating that “Because we will do X and X, we think Y will happen”. This section provides you with an opportunity describe the overarching assumptions that informed the design of the project.

It is important to include WHY you think these assumptions will hold true. Particularly, it is helpful to reference past projects, evaluations, best practices and research that demonstrates the success of the strategies that led to the desired result and why you expect similar outcomes in this project.

Numbering your assumptions and clearly listing the relevant experience that underpins the assumptions is a helpful way to make sure that these are clear and easy to read for the person reviewing the proposal.

Once you have identified and described your overarching assumptions, you should find the process of describing the logic related to the immediate outcomes and their related outputs much easier. 

4. Integrating gender, human rights, risks and stakeholder participation

Key areas that we are used to be separated in different sections of the proposal, such as the gender analysis, human rights analysis, risks analysis and stakeholder participation, must now be integrated throughout the Theory of Change.

When we are working on a Theory of Change we describe and list all of the key points from each of these sections and colour code them according to the immediate outcome they relate to and, if they are specific to a particular output, we put the number of that output beside it. As we begin to describe each outcome and output in the Theory of Change, we refer to this list and cross off each point as we integrate them into the narrative.

This process ensures we have covered all of the key points of each of these important areas and that we demonstrate to GAC that a thorough analysis of these issues (e.g. gender and human rights) underpins the Theory of Change for our project.

5. Review, review, review

When we have completed the Theory of Change we ask our colleagues to review it and check it against the list of important risks and gender and human rights considerations. Our colleagues will ensure that we have included everything requested from GAC and let us know if it is easy to read and understand and provide us with points for improvement before the final submission.

If you have any questions or comments about writing your Theory of Change, join our discussion on LinkedIn! Do you have any tips that you would add to this list?

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