Theory of Change ~ Workshop

If you think about the many organisations in need of our support and asking for our contributions and daily attention in a world of need, it is interesting how their Theory of Change is often unspoken.

While clear in their ‘essential five’ – of Purpose, Vision, Mission, Aim and Principles, the reasonable and credible basis on which the contribution of the organisation will have social relevance may remain implicit.

If we think about the challenge of working in the generative, which often involves imagining the actuation of more than is presently, the premise for ‘how’ we make a contributive difference is for many organisations unavailable as an inquiry. It is entirely reasonable, without that inquiry, that our theory of how change actually occurs in enacting a desired future, may be entirely absent.

To be clear, this is the ‘generative change’ that results from ‘the actuation of a potential that enables other generative potentials’ (Varey, 2012). Not hopefully, or wishfully, but actually. Apithology as a discipline of inquiry into the actuality of causality draws on the hopeful, but cannot rely on hopefulness, as its only premise. To be specific, this visionary generative change is not the defeat of what is not wanted by enacting its opposite, for there can be no worthwhile victory in working against symptoms only. Statements of the removal, defeat or vanishing of social problems, do not totally represent theories of social change of contributive significance.

Rather than reserve such complex questions for distant philosophy, the approach in Apithology is to begin with this question of premise centrally. If generative change is to occur, one must be able to say how this may become, based on what already is (and who we presently are).

If you want something to work, even in seeking an activist’s change in the part of society we are personally in opposition to, would not our premise be a change towards an outcome that enables all – being more than simply a change away from ‘what we don’t want’?

For this reason, among others (like practice efficacy, stakeholder empathy and having progression reflexivity) an organisation seeking apithological change will have at its center its own explicit Theory of (Apithology) Change.

This is not a self-justifying statement of how a world wanted is envisaged to work. It is a profound recognition of how any humanity-centric inquiry will have to work for humanity – and to do so by the recognition of how we are in our entirety.

The six contexts of an Apithology TOC together enable the concordance in a ‘change-makers’ conception of change. These generative dimensions are:

Causality | Assumptions | Implications | Determiners | Agency | Trajectory |

Too complex?

We find that for most, in their expressions of the practice of Apithology, this may be the minimum necessary, if we are authentically asking questions from a different horizon of inquiry. Organisations seeking social generativity want this, because the outcomes they seek are more important than the promises, they can only hope to keep.

There is a simple inquiry process that leads quickly to this philosophical concordance. In teaching this process to Sustainable Development Degree under-graduates, from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds, it is amazing how easily we can articulate our TOC when skilfully guided.

Importantly, this making of the assumed explicit, does not verify that the theory of change ‘works’ always, only that it is a coherent proposition for future reflection. For the efficacy of any change theory is entirely in the domain of the skilful enactor. We must each learn in our own process of action-inquiry, the best forms of the novel approach that ensures our contribution to society. This learning occurs most rapidly by reflecting on the positive expressions achieved, rather than the repetition of failures (hopefully). Without an explicit theory of change, we may be in hope projecting, not in learning enacting.

Enabling that learning apithologically, is a first step towards a theory of humanity-learning which can be held personally, with efficacy. For in seeking the contributions of others, with ethics, awareness, caring and constancy, how can we do this without knowing deeply, the premise for our own self change in our heartfelt change-making?

To end with a quote, discovered by long-term experience: “The only theory of change that truly works, is the one that changes your theory of change.” – willvarey