Every nonprofit needs a theory of change for its technology. . .and for its evaluation process

if then

I’ve spent a lot of my professional life (thus far) thinking about the missions of nonprofit organizations, and about information/communication technologies for nonprofits.

In the past few years, it’s become fashionable to talk about the importance of a “theory of change” for nonprofits.  This is merely a way of underlining the importance of making an explicit statement about the causal relationship between what a nonprofit organization does and the impact that it has promised to deliver.  I applaud this!  It’s crucial to say, “if we take all of the following resources, and do all of the following actions, then we will get all of the following results.”  An organization that lacks the capacity to marshal those resources and take those actions needs to reconsider, because it is on track to fail. If its capacity is not aligned with its commitment, it should acquire the resources or change its commitment to results.  Of course, it some cases, it will merely need to revise its theory of change.  In any case, it will have to work backward from its mission, and understand how each component contributes to achieving it.

This kind of thinking has lead to a lot of conversations (and a lot of anxiety) in the nonprofit sector about performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, and impact assessment.

I’d love to have some of this conversation focus on the information/communication technologies that nonprofit organizations are using.  In other word, it’s time to be explicit about a theory of change that explains in detail how every component of the technology an organization uses contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver a specific kind of social, cultural, or environmental impact.

Likewise, I’d love to have the conversation address the ways in which the efforts of a nonprofit organization’s performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, or impact assessment team contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver the kind of impact that it promised its stakeholders.

 

 

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One thought on “Every nonprofit needs a theory of change for its technology. . .and for its evaluation process

  1. Kathryn Engelhardt Cronk 08/11/2016 at 9:34 pm Reply

    I deeply and passionately believe that nonprofits will thrive, grow capacity, funding and attract human resources by proving mission by proving impact. That being said, there are literally millions of nonprofits that make a profound difference, everyday, in the lives of people in need … without sophisticated performance measurements.

    It’s a delicate balance and we all walk that line. I don’t want to be so busy providing data that illustrates that we do good in this world – proving ourcomes and impact – that we fail to feed a child, save a life, say no to hatred and cruelty. We all need to do both – a tall order.

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