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Hivos policy brief on Theory of Change

Policy Brief: Hivos and Theory of Change 2014

The purpose of this paper is to explain Hivos’ understanding and use of the concept ‘Theory of Change’, which has become increasingly important in its strategic thinking. The paper is meant to inform external stakeholders, such as organisations Hivos collaborates with, funders and other allies in Hivos’ work for social change. Internally, for Hivos staff, it forms the basis for more practical guidelines that will soon follow.    

Hivos’ goal to contribute to a free, fair and sustainable world implies that it aims for structural, systemic change and engages in complex social processes. Change emerges as a result of the push and pull of multiple forces that are active at the same time, and interacting. Social change processes are characterised by non-linear feedback loops, which makes outcomes of change interventions unpredictable. So, how to plan strategically and sensibly, given that uncertainty? How to proceed flexibly in emerging change processes while remaining focused on the goal? To ensure that solid thinking underpins change interventions, we need approaches that encourage and facilitate regular reflection on intentions and assumptions, that support meaningful monitoring and evaluation practice, and that engage multiple stakeholders.

In this context of complexity, Hivos considers Theory of Change (ToC) as the appropriate approach to guide its strategic thinking and action, and its collaborative action with allies. ToC fosters critical questioning of all aspects of intentional change interventions, supports adaptive planning and management in response to diverse and quickly changing contexts, contributes to the quality and transparency of strategic thinking, and facilitates personal, organisational and social learning. ToC is expected to help Hivos be more effective in achieving its goals, and to know why and under which conditions specific strategies might work for specific groups in society.

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