Hivos aims for structural, systemic change that enables all citizens – both women and men
– to participate actively and equally in the decision-making processes that determine their
lives, their society and their future. Consequently, Hivos staff and partner organisations
engage in complex social processes.
Change emerges as a result of the simultaneous push
and pull of multiple political, cultural and social forces
involving many individuals and entities. Social change
processes are complex and characterised by
non-linear feedback loops: our own actions interact
with those of others and a myriad of influencing
factors. This triggers reactions that cannot be foreseen
and makes outcomes of change interventions
Given these uncertainties, how can we plan strategically and sensibly? How can social
change initiatives move forward in emerging change processes in a flexible way, while
remaining focused on the goal?
In this context of complexity, Hivos values working with theory of change (ToC) as an
appropriate approach to guide its strategic thinking and action, as well as its collaborative
action with others. The use of a ToC approach fosters critical questioning of all aspects of
change interventions and supports adaptive planning and management in response to diverse
and quickly changing contexts. It contributes to the quality and transparency of strategic
thinking, and therefore to personal, organisational and social learning. Use of a ToC approach
should make Hivos more effective in achieving its goals, and enable it to understand better
why and under which conditions specific strategies might work for specific groups in society.
This guide has evolved from experimentation with and learning about theory of change
thinking and its use in practice, which started in 2007. The approach presented here has
been developed over time in a series of workshops with Hivos staff, partner organisations
and consultants in all regions where Hivos is active. These guidelines have benefited greatly
from the feedback of participants.
In 2010, Hivos established a Theory of Change Learning Group, to consolidate learning from
practice. The ToC Learning Group members varied over the years, but key participants have
been the authors of this guide: Marjan van Es, Irene Guijt and Isabel Vogel, with Iñigo Retolaza
Eguren and staff of the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI) of Wageningen University
and Research Centre.

Important milestones in the learning process were the publication of the guide ‘Theory of
Change – A thinking and action approach to navigate in the complexity of social change
processes’, written by Iñigo Retolaza Eguren (2011), and the launch of Hivos Theory of Change
Resource Portal (2012). This portal is now hosted by CDI:
This guide aims to support Hivos staff in applying a ToC approach as intended and set out in
Hivos’ policy brief: ‘Hivos and Theory of Change’.
A theory of change approach can be used for different purposes, by different users, and at
different moments in the cycle of developing, monitoring, reviewing or evaluating a
programme or strategy. Table 1 gives an overview of the relevance of the chapters for different
uses and user groups.
Part A introduces theory of change and Hivos’ perspective on ToC thinking: what it is, what
you should know before you start, and key features of ToC thinking that you need to
understand in order to be able to use the approach effectively and reap the benefits of the
process. ‘Theory of Change’ as a term is used by an increasing number of organisations and
demanded by donors, but is not always understood in the same way. Hivos has developed its
own understanding of the process and what good quality ToC work is all about. All users who
are not fully acquainted with a ToC approach and/or are new to Hivos will benefit from
reading this part.
Part B is a stepwise approach to guide you through the process of developing a ToC for
different purposes. Here you will find also information on how to use specific tools
recommended for each step. This is the most practical part of the document.
Part B also includes ideas for a ToC Quality Audit that can be used to check whether all the
necessary components are elaborated with sufficient quality. Such an audit is useful in two
situations. First, for staff responsible for assessing proposals, either from partner organisations
to Hivos, or from Hivos to other donors. It can also be used as an extra check at the end of a
ToC design process by the team involved in the process. Second, for those involved in the
review of the ToC of an ongoing intervention.
Part C contains references to tools suggested in Part B, as well as resources and sites where
you can find more information about ToC use. This material will enable you to dive deeper in
specific aspects of ToC, find appropriate tools for your purpose as well as updates and
experiences of how others use ToC.
This guide does not elaborate on how to facilitate the process of developing a ToC. You will
find some (links to) resources related to facilitation in section 8.3.