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Identify the difference you want to make

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Planning tools help you articulate your intended outcomes (changes or benefits that happen as a result of your work) and impact (broad or longer-term effects of your work).

Using a planning tool can help you plan new work, communicate the purpose of what you do to funders and donors, and decide what information to collect to evaluate your programmes and services. 

Two of the most commonly used planning models are theory of change and the Planning Triangle.

Theory of change

A theory of change shows how you expect outcomes to occur over the short, medium and longer term as a result of your work. It can be represented in a visual diagram or as a narrative.

A theory of change can be developed at the beginning of a piece of work (to help you plan) or to describe an existing piece of work (so you can evaluate it). It is particularly helpful if you are planning or evaluating a complex initiative – although it can also be used for more straightforward projects.

Developing a theory of change can help you:

  • put emphasis on what you want to achieve rather than what you want to do. It offers a theory of causal connections that can provide a firm basis for deciding on particular outputs or ways of working.
  • generate appropriate shared expectations. Developing a theory can bring to the surface assumptions about how people expect certain outcomes to be achieved, and provides an opportunity to consider what can realistically be expected.   
  • show how your work fits in to the bigger picture. Organisations sometimes find there is a gap between the level at which they are working and the evidence of impact that their funders want to see demonstrated. A theory of change can show how a project working at a local level or on a relatively small scale contributes to the broader picture of social change.
  • build a greater culture of analysis and learning. A theory can provide a framework against which you can analyse your progress. Your theory will identify specific aspects of your work; when you evaluate, you can question what it is about a specific intervention or way of working that causes or triggers change.

Find out more about the uses of theory of changehow to develop a theory of change and take a look at an example.

The Planning Triangle

The Planning Triangle, developed by NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, is widely used for impact planning, and helps you communicate about your work clearly and succinctly. It sets out a series of simple, logical connections that help you, and other people, understand how you plan to make a difference through your work.

The triangle’s simple format makes it best suited to organisations who want to plan and evaluate single projects or areas of work, or for organisations with less experience in impact planning.

planning triangle

Read about how to create a planning triangle and look at examples of planning triangles.

Page last edited May 24, 2019

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