The Theory of Change

Courtesy of CBC.ca

I wanted to know how to spend $100 million.

Provoked by the teaser on the cover, I opened a recent issue of Inc. magazine to see how such a large sum of money might help education.

Inspired by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s recent donation to the Newark school system, the author tackled the inherent challenges to reforming education guided by an entrepreneurial mindset.

What it comes down to is the “theory of change.”

This is “a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome.” Organizations of all kinds — industrial, political, religious — operate under basic assumptions about how results are achieved. In fact, it’s most accurate to say they are defined by these ideas; membership grows based on how many people identify themselves with this or that method for making a difference.

If these central concepts are absent, it is nearly impossible to get anything going.

An agreed-upon approach is the foundation for decision-making, it creates the boundaries for what will be done to reach a stated goal. Used properly, it streamlines the process for advancing from stage to stage.

This is true of people, too. How we go about moving from one station in life to the next — if we ever do — is a function of the perspective we have on tactics.

And, being human, we often cling tightly to what we’re comfortable with, continuing to work furiously despite our efforts having questionable impact.

What must be done to change how we think about changing?

Do we allocate more resources (money, information, time)?

How about taking different action? Is simply doing that enough?

Can it be identified without the 20-20 prism of hindsight?

What, if anything, can be deemed necessary without argument?

It takes commitment.

Early returns do not a revolution make. Challenges are bound to arise when steering a new course. Just overcoming the momentum built traveling the old way is a task unto itself — one which must be completed before going full speed in another direction.

Determination, then, is a component.

It also takes patience.

Change, for the most part, is a gradual process spread over days, months and years. Though we find ourselves frustrated and overwhelmed when it takes a while for everything to coalesce, steadiness of spirit and the willingness to persevere are necessary to witness anything bear fruit.

Regardless of how we anticipate change occurring, we can be certain of one thing:

Deeply-held belief and inspired effort will be harnessed over time to create the hoped-for conclusion.

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2 Responses to “The Theory of Change”


  1. 1 Walk With the Wise March 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Each new day is a new opportunity to continue making your desired change, despite how good or bad you did the day before.


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