Theory of change – “Take 2!”

Clapperboard Take 2

Used with permission.

Continuing the real-time coverage of CCCC’s strategic review, while developing the theory of change we converted problem statements (with negative connotations) into condition statements (positive goals to be achieved). We think this is a much better way for ministries to think about mission.

In my post, Strategic planning for Christian ministries, I wrote “A ministry’s strategic planning is not based on leveraging assets but on solving a problem. The problem is that people need to know God and experience his love.” The point I was making was that businesses exist to maximize the value of their assets in whatever legal way they can, while ministries exist to get some particular task accomplished. Christian strategic planning is about eliminating the gap between what is and what God wants to be (the ‘problem’).

Elizabeth Sharpe commented that she doesn’t like to look at our mission as a problem to be solved, and I can see her point. It is a problem of course, the world is not what God intended, but I agree that it is much more uplifting to position our work as a move towards something positive, rather than as a move away from something negative. She wrote, “[God] wanted our light to shine so that others would clearly see what motivates us. Light is not negative. Light is our start.” I’m with her in terms of favouring the positive over the negative.

The difference in these two perspectives was brought forcefully to my attention while developing CCCC’s theory of change with the senior leadership team. We started with our proposed End statement and then thought about all the reasons why it wasn’t already a reality. What we developed seemed excessively negative. I certainly wouldn’t have felt good about making that particular theory of change model public.

So we found a way to put the model in the positive, and I think this will resonate much better with us and our members. We started again with the same End statement, but converted the problems into conditions that have to be in place in order for the End to be achieved. The same issues are involved, but from a different perspective. Perhaps this will work well with your beneficiaries and donors as well. Here’s how we turned a problem into something positive for our organizational theory of change.

Our negative theory of change

We first started with our End Statement (Impact Statement) and then came up with why our End has not already been achieved.

  • CCCC members will be exemplary, healthy, effective Christian ministries
  • Reasons why they are not already exemplary, healthy and effective, include
    • lack of education
    • lack of resources
    • problematic attitudes
    • lack of reflection on applying faith into practice.

For each problem, we listed all the causes we could think of. The idea is that when we know the causes, then we can design services that will help our members.

Our positive theory of change

A more positive theory of change developed when we switched the “problem to be solved” with “conditions for the desired impact to be achieved.” It now reads:

  • CCCC members will be exemplary, healthy, effective Christian ministries
  • Conditions necessary for us to have the desired impact:
    • We assume all Christian ministries want to be exemplary, healthy, and effective and will be when they
      • Have the knowledge required to be exemplary, healthy, and effective
      • Have adequate financial and human resources to be exemplary, healthy, and effective
      • Eliminate underlying attitudes that hinder them from being exemplary, healthy, and effective
      • Integrate their faith with organizational practice

In the problem solving model, we went on to list causes for the problems. In this new, more positive, model we list the obstacles our members need to overcome. The focus is clearly on taking positive action.

Thinking about the problems helped us identify what needs to be in place for success to occur, but the negative is just a step towards the positive. Going forward, we will focus on the positive things that need to happen.

Here’s our theory of change.

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