The Power of Theories of Change

Improving the lives of disadvantaged populations—whether through better schools, after-school programs, or teen pregnancy prevention clinics—requires proven theories of change. The very development of a field depends on their diffusion, replication, critique, and modification. Yet some organizations refuse to articulate a theory of change and some funders think it would be intrusive to demand that they do so. The interests of all concerned are served by a developmental approach to creating and evaluating theories of change.

The fundamental tenets of strategic philanthropy are that funders and their grantees should have clear goals, strategies based on sound theories of change, and robust methods for assessing progress toward their goals. Although these ideas are gaining traction, some prominent philanthropic thinkers continue to express reservations about how they may affect the balance of power between funders and the organizations they support.

For example, former Ford Foundation president Susan Berresford...

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