[Question] Do research organisations make theory of change diagrams? Should they?

My state­ments here do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of any of my em­ploy­ers.

My questions

  1. Do many re­search or­gani­sa­tions (within or out­side of EA) make the­ory of change (ToC) di­a­grams? If not, why not?

  2. Do many re­search orgs make ToC di­a­grams, but not make them pub­li­cly ac­cessible? If so, why?

  3. Should more re­search orgs make ToC di­a­grams? Why or why not?

  4. Should more re­search orgs make their ToC di­a­grams pub­li­cly ac­cessible? Why or why not?

(You don’t need to an­swer all four ques­tions; feel free to just ad­dress one of them, or just say what some org you know about does and why, or what­ever.)


Ac­cord­ing to Wikipe­dia:

The­ory of Change (ToC) is a spe­cific type of method­ol­ogy for plan­ning, par­ti­ci­pa­tion, and eval­u­a­tion that is used in com­pa­nies, philan­thropy, not-for-profit and gov­ern­ment sec­tors to pro­mote so­cial change. The­ory of Change defines long-term goals and then maps back­ward to iden­tify nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tions.[1]

The­ory of Change ex­plains the pro­cess of change by out­lin­ing causal link­ages in an ini­ti­a­tive, i.e., its shorter-term, in­ter­me­di­ate, and longer-term out­comes.

I haven’t read the whole of that ar­ti­cle, and I’m not an ex­pert on ToC method­olo­gies. When I say “the­ory of change di­a­grams”, I es­sen­tially just mean flowcharts/​causal di­a­grams show­ing how an or­gani­sa­tion thinks the con­crete ac­tions they plan to take might con­nect to the out­comes they ul­ti­mately care about caus­ing. (Please let me know if that’s me stretch­ing the jar­gon too far.)

Here’s an ex­am­ple of a ToC di­a­gram, from the EA org Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute (source):

And here’s a ToC di­a­gram I par­ti­ci­pated in cre­at­ing, from the EA org Con­ver­gence Anal­y­sis (which I worked for un­til re­cently) (source):

(See the rele­vant sec­tion of Con­ver­gence’s strate­gic plan for more ex­pla­na­tion and con­text. One rele­vant ex­cerpt is: “We have re­frained from show­ing ar­rows to con­nect each ac­tivity or out­come to those it helps bring about. This is partly be­cause there are so many con­nec­tions, and we wished to avoid clut­ter­ing the di­a­gram.”)

It seems to me that it might be quite use­ful for re­search orgs to make ToC di­a­grams. But I haven’t ac­tu­ally seen any ex­am­ples of ToC di­a­grams from re­search orgs ex­cept the two shown above. This has led me to won­der about the four ques­tions stated above.


The value
is not of type