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How to design and implement a ToC process

Facilitating a ToC process entails various elements. From our experience there are two elements we find essential: the facilitation process and ToC capacities. These cannot be separated, in the process a facilitator has to acknowledge present capacities and build new ToC capacities.

ToC process

In our experiences facilitation should start with acknowledging what is already present as ToC practice and ToC thinking capacity. Often there is already a lot of tacit and implicit thinking about change and how the team, organisation or network thinks about their own role in change processes. Recognising and acknowledging this capacity is a precondition for a facilitator to engage in a ToC facilitation process.

Attention to the present ToC capacities surfaces values and assumptions in the team. We all have underlying values in our work, conscious or unconscious. In the process of relating to values and assumptions we arrive at the core topics of ToC that will guide the next steps. Sometimes people start to formulate assumptions they were unaware of before. Assumptions about what first outcomes actions will have. And how these first outcomes will eventually turn into outcomes at a later stage. But also assumptions about what other actors will do or not do. Or how factors like climate change or political (in)stability around them will affect the change process.

We recommend not to make a “perfect” ToC but rather underline the importance of changing the ToC as learning takes place. Some unplanned entrepreneurial action which addresses new opportunities or which deals with new challenges is encouraged. A good ToC will change over time.

ToC capacities

Facilitating a ToC process implies investments in capacities at individual, team, organisational and sometimes network levels. People have different ideas about how change happens. The process of acknowledging different views on change and designing a common ToC can be powerful and strengthen the strategic thinking capacity of individuals, the team or the organisation. This internal capacity is a necessary condition before further designing a ToC that makes explicit what the organisation will do and what it sees that other actors will have to do in making lasting change a reality. The added value of the organisation is articulated, which is a prerequisite for the capacity to engage and commit in change processes.

We also need to look at our own capacities as a facilitator. Firstly, we should have a good understanding of ToC and its different elements, examples, etc. We also should have the competence of being able to handle a set of tools that are logically related to the ToC facilitation process: tools for power analysis, situational and stakeholder analysis, cause effect thinking, visualisation, helping people to express themselves, group interaction, etc. Practice these beforehand and assure you recognise when to apply them and why. Sometimes you need to apply probing questions to surface underlying values and assumptions. Sometimes you will have to help in causal thinking. Sometimes you will have to help to relate to the context in which the team is operating and include complex issues. But sometimes also the other way around: how to make a “simple” ToC story, which is resuming the main elements of the complex context and how the organisation is dealing with them. Helpful ToC practice allows the team to design a ToC that is sufficiently simple and plausible. The team needs this “clear” ToC in order to be able to communicate with the outside world and be understood by others.