The identified need shapes the boundaries of the programme or
service – what you want to be different, for whom, and in what way.
Underpinning assumptions are the research, theories, models and
beliefs that support your approach. Some elements might be hidden as
part of “the way we do things round here.”
Resources and constraints are the building blocks required to
achieve the programme objectives, such as people, skills, facilities,
equipment, time and finance. A programme uses these inputs to provide
Planned activities are the purposeful experiences that take
place, or the services provided. Activities result in outputs -
measurable data about what has happened (who participated, activities
completed, when did it happen, etc.).
Intended outcomes are the benefits for participants either during
or following a programme. They are usually a change in knowledge,
skills, behaviours, attitudes, etc. Indicators let you know
whether an outcome has occurred and/or, by how much.
Desired impacts are the long-term cumulative effects of the
programme or service for individuals, their community and the wider
A theory of change can be presented in many ways – the best way is that
which is most appropriate to your audience. A simple image is best
supported by a written description.
Image by Neal Anderson developed from
Measuring Programme Outcomes: A Practical Approach, United Way of America, 1996. Also see the
Outdoor Education Programme Model, John Crosbie 2013, and the
Think NPC Theory of Change in 10 Steps, James Noble 2019.
Applying your Theory of Change
The Institute for Outdoor Learning strongly encourage developing and
applying a theory of change at the beginning of a programme (to
support planning), during the programme (to support managing
delivery), and to describe an existing programme (to support
research and evaluation).
IOL Members can access the full article by Neal Anderson in the
- Benefits of a theory of change
Suggested applications for Outdoor Activity Instructors, Outdoor
Learning Specialists, and Outdoor Learning Managers
- Relevant Horizons articles
- Example theories of change
- Recommended websites for writing a theory of change