AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Jul/16

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Steve Powell on Theory Maker: Free web app for drawing Theory of Change diagrams

My name is Steve Powell and I’m an evaluator based in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I’m very interested in theories of change and their role in evaluation – both explicit theories (perhaps a programme’s logframe) and implicit (what is really going on, or what people really think is going on). I think it’s important to be able to quickly sketch out, visualise, share and update theories of change. If only these four things were really easy, we might see a lot more debate about programme theory and a lot more helpful diagrams in evaluation.

I always found it a pain to do using PowerPoint and co., so in the end I made my own online tool called Theory Maker, at http://theorymaker.info. So yes, this post is self-promotion, kind-of, but the tool is completely free, open-source and you don’t even have to register. Mostly I’m interested in feedback from you, my illustrious AEA colleague.

Rad Resource: http://theorymaker.info

You make theory-of-change diagrams just by typing the names of the elements in a structured way into a (resizeable) window, and you get a live diagram as output which reflects what you type. Some people can’t stand making a diagram this way, some people love it! I like it because you don’t have to fiddle about with dragging boxes and connectors around; Theory Maker automatically finds a good layout even when you add and make changes.

You can save the diagram as a graphic on your computer and paste it into any document. You can also save the diagram at Theory Maker and send other people a link – to the original diagram, and/or to a version they can edit.

There are lots of features including:

  • different ways to tell Theory Maker to put links between different variables
  • optional boxes to group the pieces of your diagram, for example to mark off different phases, regions or stakeholders
  • click to include/exclude various parts of your diagram or even include other diagrams
  • easy to add cross links which are difficult in traditional logframes, e.g. from one Output to more than one Outcome ?- add notes, conditional formatting and lots more

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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