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Glenn O’Neil on Evaluating Communications Programs Using ToC

Hello, I am Glenn O’Neil and specialize in evaluating communication programs and campaigns with my own company, Owl RE. My post today is about how to use the theory of change in evaluating communication programs.

Hot tip: there is nothing so practical as a theory of change! The theory of change maps out from activities to impact how the communications action would bring about change, often in a flow-chart like diagram. Here is a simplified example:

This should be done when designing a communications action but in my experience it is rarely the case. So you can reconstruct the theory of change at the start of the evaluation – what activities were undertaken? What was the desired short and long term effects – for example, raising awareness amongst whom? Getting people to act, but on what? Mobilizing publics – but what for? This helps clarify what you are then going to measure and how to go about it.

Rad resource: For more examples of how the theory of change is used in campaign evaluation for non-profits, check out this excellent paper from Julia Coffman of Harvard University: “Lessons in evaluating communications campaigns: Five case studies. Harvard Family Research Project, 2002 (pdf)”.

For those that would like a broad overview of ‘how to’ evaluate communication programs and projects, check out my presentation slides for a “One day training workshop for communication professionals on evaluating communication programmes, products and campaigns”.

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