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Hivos Action Learning Community Reflection Notes

These three Reflection Notes are products of the Hivos Action Learning Community and are based on the collective experiences of its members in their work with organisations who are developing their theory of change. The Reflection Notes are available for download on the right of this page in Spanish and English.

ToC Notes 1: What is the purpose of a Theory of Change?

The term “Theory of Change” (TOC) is understood and practiced in different ways: from a more structured and semi-linear planning tool used in the context of a development project to a more flexible and emergent process thinking logic applied to social change processes. This means that the application of ToC goes from an instrumental use on one end of the scale to a transformational practice on the other end. In practice, it will often be a mix within this range, with different and adapted purposes for each application. Before engaging with a ToC process, being clear about purpose is crucial. From the group’s collective experience with Theory of Change in different contexts, three generic, complementary purposes have emerged.

ToC Notes 2: How to facilitate a ToC process and help to develop ToC capacities?

In this Note, we focus specifically on ToC facilitation. The Note shares our experiences on what is required for a good ToC process, what type of ToC capacity can be strengthened and what capacity is required to be a good facilitator. ToC facilitation aims to strengthen ToC capacity. ‘ToC capacity’ is the ability of people to apply ToC thinking in ways that help them in their daily practice to reflect on and adopt more effective strategies. This Note also provide practical guidelines for ToC facilitation.

ToC Notes 3: Working with Assumptions in a Theory of Change Process

This note is based on our collective experiences in working with organizations to develop their theory of change. One of the most eye-­opening aspects of the work for participants and us is that of identifying assumptions. Suddenly having an aha moment about a long held and problematic assumption has been powerful, helping to: understand what works and why/or understand why things did not work, generate new strategies and actions, pinpoint information for outcome or impact reporting, and reveal why organisations in a partnership might not be working well together… yes, their assumptions differ.

ToC Notes 4: Visualising your theory of change: a must?

This note is based on our collective experiences in working with organisations to develop their theory of change (ToC). It focuses on the role of visualisation in the ToC process. Through this note we aim to explain how visualisation in the process helps to facilitate thinking by making thinking more explicit and how visualisation helps to better explore your road ahead towards the aspired change.


The ToC action-learning community is comprised of:

  • Marjan van Es and Karel Chambille (Hivos Head Office),
  • Simone van Vugt, Esther Koopmanschap, and Jan Brouwers (CDI),
  • Hettie Walters (ICCO),
  • Irene Guijt (Learning by Design)
  • Iñigo Retolaza (independent practitioner).

Our friends Isabel Vogel and Zenda Ofir (independent practitioners) were invited as learning peers and mirrors to contribute to the creation of these Reflection Notes. We want to acknowledge and thank their meaningful and engaged participation.