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Mastering Your Theory of Change with Lisa Watson

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Theory of change is one of those things that everyone seems to have a vague sense of what it is but can’t quite come to the same definition.

How does our organization’s theory of change play a role in our work? How can we ground it in our practice?

On today’s episode, Lisa Watson, co-founder of Openly, shares with us how she and her team help nonprofits to develop clear and effective theory of change. Lisa integrates the principles of design and design thinking in the process.

Give it a listen and check out an example of Lisa and her team’s work in the resource section.

Myths Lisa wants us to leave behind:

  1. Theory of change sits inside a document: theory of change is a living process. It can galvanize support and needs to be continuously tested and adjusted.

  2. You come up with the theory of change first, and then get people onboard: The process of building the theory of change itself should engage your stakeholders and build shared understanding and ownership.

Lisa’s tops tips on mapping out theory of change

  1. Start with the why: we are so good at talking about what we do or how we do them, but digging deeper into why we do what we do is the key to articulate your organization’s theory of change.

  2. Use visuals: visualizing complex ideas helps to bring clarity to your theory of change (and it does not have to be fancy design).

  3. Build your evaluation framework from your theory of change: The theory of change is the starting point for mapping out what you should be measuring and how often you should measure your impact.

My favourite quotes from today’s episode

Post your favourite quote on our social!

“Sometimes people think about a theory of change as a document. We think about it as a living process of articulating some of those assumptions and then testing them in the world and using that as the groundwork for, for strategy for evaluation for impact measurement, and for learning in an organization.”

“We all have these implicit hypotheses about why we're doing what we're doing. So making that explicit and making that a shared theory helps to really bring a lot more clarity so that we can make decisions”

Resources from this Episode

The Good Partnership


East Scarborough Storefront Theory of Change

Openly Toronto

Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn

The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano