Our most downloaded resource, this brief provides a simple one-page tool for thinking about the theories of change that underlie public policy advocacy strategies.
For social change makers, thinking through and articulating the process for how change will occur—or identifying a theory of change—undoubtedly is a useful exercise for formulating effective strategy. Theories of change are illustrations of how change is expected to play out over time and the role that organizations will play in producing that change. They show how strategies will connect to interim outcomes that then set the stage for long-range goals.
The idea of developing a theory of change is now a well-accepted practice among funders and their grantees. Less patience exists, however, with the tools available for articulating theories of change. Common complaints are that they can be too linear, too removed from context, and too restricted in their ability to facilitate thinking about how strategies need to adapt over time. This is especially true for advocacy, where theories and their associated strategies may need to shift in response to a variable political context, or if advocacy tactics are not as effective as anticipated.
This brief offers a simple one-page tool for thinking about the theories of change that underlie public policy advocacy strategies. It presents the tool and offers six questions that advocates, and funders working with advocates, can work through to better articulate their theories of change.
The tool—labeled the advocacy strategy framework—has several advantages over more familiar linear box-and-arrow theory-of-change tools. As advocacy is not predictable or linear, the tool does not force linear thinking. It offers a place to start, rather than a blank page. It helps advocates to think more specifically about audiences—who is expected to change and how, and what it will take to get them there. While theories of change often consider advocacy strategies in isolation of other efforts, this tool helps to think about how other advocates (like-minded or in opposition) are positioned. Finally, it prompts thinking about useful tactics and meaningful interim outcomes.