Interactive resources for incubators and accelerators
Interactive resources for incubators and accelerators
Interactive resources for incubators and accelerators

Teaching a ToC

This section walks you through the seven main steps for facilitating an effective Theory of Change workshop with a venture that you support. It covers what you need to know to properly prepare for the workshop, before exploring some of the practical exercises that you can run through with your venture. It identifies the things to look out for in your role as a facilitator and provides some alternative approaches if a workshop setting is not feasible for your program.

Step 1. Prepare for the Workshop


The objective of the workshop is to learn about, and then capture the theory of how change happens for various stakeholders because of what the venture does.

Perhaps the most important stakeholder, then, is the people they are seeking to benefit, so you should aim to hear directly from them how change happens for them.

Practical Tip

If this is not possible, you can ask the venture to interview those stakeholders before the workshop. If that is still not possible, you could do some research to learn more about that community.


It’s also really helpful for you to have some context before you go into a workshop with a venture. You should have a look at their website and programs. Doing so will help you start to formulate some ideas before you meet the venture. Are there some things that are locked and not changeable?

For example, do they have an existing contract that requires them to undertake certain activities?

Practical Tip

Get your facilitator to do some research before the workshop. This will help to remove tunnel vision and it is always good to learn more about the field your venture is working in.

Try to gain an outsider opinion as well as the opinion of your entrepreneurs by performing a Google search, and (if possible) conducting stakeholder consultations and focus groups.


Conducting Stakeholder Interviews

  • 1.

    Stakeholder interviews help you to understand what changes for stakeholders.


    You do stakeholder interviews to learn about:


    – The outcomes

    – The issues

    – Current solutions/evidence

    – Activities

    – Outputs

    – People / planet


    How to do stakeholder interviews:


    – Choose a diverse selection of stakeholders

    – Have two interviewers if possible:


    Question asker 



    – Use a neutral space

    – Push gently


    Ask questions such as:


    “What are the things that are important in your life?”

    “What would you hope will change for your family?”


    Source: Akina


Come up with a hypothesis first to help the organisation get out of tunnel vision or see if they have anecdotes.

Practical Tip

Don’t put words in people’s mouths and don’t let your thinking colour what comes out of the workshop.


You also need to think carefully about who should be in the room for the workshop. Are the key decision-makers and influencers in the room? Should they be inviting funders/partners to get their perspective?

Often you may want to integrate some stakeholder interviews into the process to inform the outcomes. If so, you will need to arrange for them to be available at the appropriate point or be done first.

Practical Tip

Typically, you want your workshop group to be around 9 people and a mixture of:

  • Front line workers
  • Leadership team
  • People who have been around to see change


How long your workshop goes for depends on the number of people and how many stakeholder interviews you do before the workshop.



You want to keep your workshop structured but casual so people feel like they can speak openly and share ideas.

Think about how you are going to arrange the tables. What kind of a table formation will encourage equal interaction among the participants?

Bring a lot of post-its, markers and paper to work with, rather than having people on digital devices.

Have your participants dress in informal wear, and have the conversation feel informal as well.

Practical Tip

The average duration of a Theory of Change workshop is 3-4 hours.

Step 2. Ensure they Understand the Issue

Use the problem tree tool. Describe the issue, and then describe the different levels of the issue. 

What are the drivers of the issue? Then you can identify which level of the issue you are seeking to address? Keep digging until you identify some causes.

Practical Tip

If this exercise is too much, write on the whiteboard and summarise what has been shared.

If you can, refine it on the spot with a sentence. Otherwise, keep it as a long list.

Ask your participants:

“This process is iterative, we can park this for now and come back later?”

Step 3. List the Activities/People/Planet


Describe the activities the venture undertakes in order to achieve impact.

  • Develop a long list through brainstorming
  • Exclude business functions (e.g. payroll, volume, management)
  • Refine your list (core activity + other things)



Who are the key stakeholders for the venture?

  • Develop a long list through brainstorming
  • Who is materially affected?
  • Refine the list to just the most important stakeholders
  • Group the stakeholders into types of stakeholders

The most important stakeholders are the ones the program is trying to benefit and who are vital for the effective running of the program.

For example, in a parenting program, the core group of stakeholders would be the children and parents, and the external benefits would be their extended families. Even though the parents attend the sessions and the children do not, the program is specifically designed to benefit the children so both the parents and the children are core stakeholders. In another example, a children’s soccer club is set up to benefit the children. The parents make friends while watching the soccer, and so benefit from the program. But that is not what the program is established for, so the parents in this case are not stakeholders.

Practical Tip

You may want to group and cluster the activities in order to develop the theory of change.

Step 4. List the Outputs

Outputs are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you usually count. They are the things that you immediately see but they do not represent the changes that happen for a stakeholder.

For example, the number of goods sold or number of clients.

  • Develop a long list through brainstorming

It is not always necessary to capture the outputs. The outcomes are the most important. If you do include outputs, refine to only the most important outputs.

Practical Tip

People may get confused or stuck at activities and outputs and can find it difficult to move to considering outcomes.

This could be because they were previously required to measure outputs.

Step 5. Brainstorm the Outcomes

This is the most challenging and important step of your ToC workshop.

How do you know which outcomes to measure? Which is the most important?



Form an internal working group to work out outcomes you want to achieve from the programs you are running.



Write down all the activities and stakeholders (people/planet) and outputs (if you are doing outputs) on large paper or a whiteboard and refine the list. 



Encourage all of the participants in the workshop to write lots of outcomes. Encourage them to think about which outcomes would come next, which outcomes would happen as a consequence of the early-stage outcomes.

Consider outcomes that might happen in different aspects of the person’s life.

For example, the employee of the cafe might get more fulfilment and sense of belonging at work, and outside work they might enjoy more financial stability and stronger family relationships. Include both positive and negative outcomes.

Practical Tip

Get your participants to write the outcomes on post-its with big marker pens so they don’t write too much.


Group the outcomes into short-term, medium-term and long-term clusters.

Get your participants to read the outcomes and determine which cluster they fit into. As the facilitator, you can be taking the post-its and arranging them into the clusters as the participants call them out. If your participants aren’t confident to speak in front of a group, get them to put their post-its on the whiteboard, wall, table or floor and ask them to cluster them as a whole group.

You may also want to cluster them into groups of similar ideas, or into other types of clusters such as geographical or relevance to different stakeholder groups.



Which cluster leads to which cluster?

Which outcome leads to which outcome?

Draw connections between linked clusters.

Does evidence exist for this link or do they need to find it?


For example, there is evidence that reading to a child more leads to improved relationships and increased cognitive development of the child.



Go through each outcome and determine whether or not the group thinks it is needed for the long-term change. Also do this with the list of activities. If the group decides that it is not needed, edit or remove it from the list.

For example, in a parenting program, it is good that the parents make friends in the class, but that is not necessary for the long-term goal of the child arriving at school ready to learn.



Take the remaining outcomes and spread them out horizontally on a timeline.



Use the Golden Thread to identify the priority outcomes  i.e. the outcomes that are the most important for achieving the desired impact and what activities lead to those outcomes.

Practical Tip

The summary outcome can be in a different colour.

For example, ‘confidence’ as a summary note for a cluster.


Work through the logic and identify any gaps.

For example, you may identify that you can’t achieve your goal by yourself and you might need to have a partner to help you.

Add in outcomes to address the gap or gaps in the logic.



Read the priority outcomes out in order with the words “and this will lead to” in between. It should tell a compelling story of change.

Now there is a theory of change. This can form the foundation for measuring those priority outcomes over time.


Practical Tip

Use a different coloured post-it for the outcomes you add to address gaps in the logic.

Step 6. Refine the Outcomes (if you have time!)


Identify which activities and outputs connect with key outcomes. This will help you to see what you missed or understand if the activities that are being performed are actually leading to any outcomes.

Practical Tip

If the venture is doing activities that don’t lead to any of the long-term outcomes, then perhaps they shouldn’t be doing that activity.

When should you do this exercise?

  • Any time, but preferably as early as possible. A venture can do it at the beginning so that you know you’re on track.
  • Again once a program has begun. It is also important to revisit the model to check you are on track.
  • If you have been running for a while but have not done an impact model. It is never too late!

Step 7. Post-Workshop

The workshop is only the start of the impact journey for the venture. After the workshop, they will need to continue to do research and development and continue to develop the ToC through a  process of refinement.

Key outcomes from the workshop are:

  • Gathered insights
  • Refined focus
  • Better understanding of how impact happens
  • Clarity on next steps
  • A rough Theory of Change

What if I Can’t Do a Workshop with my Venture?

There are many reasons why it may not be possible to run a workshop with your venture. They may not have the confidence to participate. It may be culturally inappropriate for everyone to be together, or it may not be geographically possible to bring everyone into the same space.

If you find yourself in this situation, you can still:

  • 01.

    Teach your venture the steps

    Run through the steps of creating a Theory of Change in your one-on-one sessions or via a group video call.

  • 02.

    Get your venture to try it

    Set your venture some homework to go through the steps within their organisation.

  • 03.

    Review it with them

    Come back together in either your one-on-one consultation or on another group call and get them to walk you through what they have developed. Provide feedback on their draft Theory of Change and identify where they may need to revisit a particular activity or step.

  • 04.

    Repeat and refine

    Get your venture to keep performing the exercise and refining their Theory of Change until they are confident with their list of outcomes and the logic that ties them all together.

Key Facilitation Principles of a Good ToC Workshop

  • Be both a facilitator and an advisor

    Your role during a ToC workshop is to both facilitate and advise.

    Facilitate: Hold the structure of the session and get the best ideas out of the participants. In this role you don’t provide advice, you just ask questions to help them.

    Advise: Sometimes you need to step into the process and help them find the right answer. This might involve bringing along some research/statistics you could share to help them get to a good solution.

  • Ask questions to prompt people

    • Keep asking ‘what changes because of that’ … ‘and then what happens”?
    • Get them out of the tunnel vision
    • Understand the dynamics in the room. Are only senior leaders speaking? Gender roles? Language barriers? Get them to speak up by using post-its.
    • Try to put yourself in their shoes as a participant
    • Embrace the mess
  • Know when to play each role

    Be a critical friend. You want to support the process but you also want to ask important questions. Can you see gaps or things that they have missed? How can you ask questions that help them uncover these challenges?

  • Do what is right for the venture

    Understand the relationship between a theory of change and frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals. But be careful about claiming too much. Always do what is right for the venture.


  • Workshop Template

    A slide template from Akina for running a ToC workshop

    View & Download


Gathering and Using Data

How to support data gathering and management