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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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“I find that the discipline of trying explicitly to connect strategic choices to a desired goal is really challenging: the connection is usually more of an assumed thing. Is it enough of a strategy to say that we want to get op-eds placed because it is our ultimate goal to change policy and politicians read op-eds?”
— Priscilla Lewis, U.S. in the World Initiative, formerly with Rockefeller Brothers Fund


While this example is from domestic U.S. policy advocacy, it illustrates the uses of Theory of Change for planning, monitoring and evaluation.

In 1996 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation decided to work on welfare reform and health care issues by forming the Devolution Initiative. Through 2001, the Initiative supported 30 national and state research, policy, and advocacy organizations, and teams of minority researchers and community organizers, to work together — with a particular focus in five states (Florida, Mississippi, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin) — on three primary goals... Read more »

Your Theory of Change: The Key to Advocacy Planning

It is difficult to accomplish any foreign policy advocacy goal without a critical plan: your theory of change. A theory of change is a simple, step-by-step model describing the program inputs and the expected outcomes of your efforts.

Your theory of change should be a useful tool—a lens that gives you a sharp focus on the steps you need to take, or a strong, well-placed lever that can help you move just the right mountain. Your theory of change will also force you to clarify your assumptions about how change will happen. A general statement of intention will not do this for you. Theories of change are not mission statements or broad visions. They are exact and somewhat exhaustive plans that show every step, however large or small. Theories of change should be specific, detailing advocacy actions your organization or coalition will take and the intended, or “assumed,” results. A detailed theory of change will give you a credible, well-drawn blueprint for your advocacy work, and a clear basis for your evaluation. In fact, it will make your evaluation life much, much simpler.

When making a theory of change, think about your starting point and your ultimate goal. Next, consider what advocacy activities you could implement and their intended result(s). Based on each result, think of what your next step would be, its intended result(s), and so on.

Take a look at the sample theory of change below for an e-advocacy segment of a campaign. Note that this is not the entire theory of change. In the left-hand column, the advocacy campaign plans to send an e-mail to the constituency network calling for political action. In the right hand column, we see several assumed results: the e-mail arrives, is opened and read and the constituent then takes action. After this takes place, the advocates perform the next step: conducting educations visits to targeted congressional offices. This spurs another chain reaction of inputs and outputs. The key to this theory of change is that it is based on advocacy inputs and assumed results. We will show you how this can be used for evaluation in other sections.

Theory of Change

Now, try one for yourself. Pick one advocacy activity you plan to engage in. What is the result? What would be the next step? Keep going for a few steps until you get the hang of using a theory of change as a planning tool.


  • Theories of changes can come in all shapes and sizes. The one presented in this model is a simple yet effective tool. Check out the resources for alternative models for your theory of change.
  • In addition to helping you think through your advocacy efforts before you start, theories of change provide a key evaluation framework.