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Change doesn’t happen overnight.
I’m not just talking about lofty goals like curing diseases, bringing about world peace, or ending global warming. I’m also talking about your own personal goals, whether they are improving your grades in school, getting fit, or losing some weight.
The inherent problem with goals is they’re all about the “what”, and not the “how”. Saying “I want to lose weight” does nothing to tell you how you’ll accomplish that. In substantive terms, it’s nothing more than a moan. A whinge.
That is why the “Theory of Change” is so useful. It allows you to define a goal, and then work out the steps needed to actually accomplish it, in an iterative, democratic manner.
What Is The Theory Of Change
The Theory of Change sounds complicated. Almost academic. But it isn’t. Rather, it’s a very systematic approach to planning how you’ll accomplish a task. Nothing more, nothing less.
You start off with a single, achievable goal. Ideally, this is something you can summarize in a single, concrete sentence, such as “I want to make the perfect cup of tea”, or “I want to learn French“.
Once you’ve defined your goal, you move on to the next step. You list the steps required to succeed. Much like your goal, these should be self-contained, single sentences, such as “Sign up to Duolingo“, and “Buy a French dictionary”.
Simply put, a Theory Of Change plan is hierarchical in nature. It focusses on the steps you will take in order to accomplish it. These can have multiple tiers of sub-steps, all of which paint a straight road to accomplishing them. Theory of Change practitioners call this an ‘outcomes pathway‘.
Each step is based upon an expected outcome, and are rationalized and explained. For Theory Of Change to actually work, you need to be able to understand why one step will have a result that makes the next step possible.
This understanding allows you to evaluate all your options and choose the best one that works for you. This flexibility allows you to look at multiple pathways to an end goal.
Making Your Own Theory Of Change Plans
Most Theory of Change plans are drawn up with a pen and paper. There’s nothing wrong with that. Paper has long been my productivity killer app of choice. But there’s some impressive, free tools online that are worth considering.
Tools like whatleads.to.
This browser-based tool makes it trivial to create your own Theory of Change outcome pathway. It’s free and easy to use. Many use it to collaboratively plan anything from political change to office productivity. Examples include:
- Being Productive At Work
- Giving girls from Afghanistan free scholarships to Oxford University
- Catalan Independence
- A More Peaceful World
- A Perfect Cup Of Tea
Once you sign up for a free account, you can start mapping the steps to achieve your goals.
Firstly, you need to define the goal you’re hoping to accomplish. For the sake of this article, I want to turn MakeUseOf into the biggest technology blog in the world.
Once you’ve defined your goal, you can start to list the steps required to accomplish it. In this case, “writing awesome content”.
Beneath each step is the prerequisite steps which describe how that would be accomplished. In this example, “Hiring Awesome Writers” leads to “Writing Awesome Content”.
You can also have competing steps. This lends itself favorably to the collaborative aspect of whatleads.to, as users can comment on steps, and vote positively and negatively, in order to reject bad ideas and promote good ideas.
As your Theory of Change plan grows, you’ll eventually have a solid course of action for achieving your goal. If you’re using whatleads.to in a team environment, you’ll have the advantage of being able to reach decisions in a democratic manner, as steps can be voted and commented on.
How Do You Visualise Your Aims?
Theory of Change is one tool that can help you achieve your goals, But there are others worth considering. Dann Albright swears by traditional paper-based planners, whilst Rob Nightingale prefers to talk things out in a Mastermind Group.
Whatever you use, I want to hear about it. Drop me a comment below and we’ll chat.
Image Credit: Theory of Change Workshop (Eleberthon)