Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Four types of futures that should be covered by a Theories of Change

ParEvo.org is a web app that enables the collaborative exploration of alternative futures, online. In the evaluation stage, participants are asked to identify which of the surviving storylines fall into each of these categories:

  • Most desirable
  • Least desirable
  • Most likely
  • Least likely
In one part of the analysis of storylines generated during a ParEvo exercise the storylines are plotted on scatter plot, where the two dimensions are likelihood and desirability, as seen in this example

Most Theories of Change that I have come across, when working as an evaluator, focus on a future that is seen as desirable and likely (as in expected). At best, the undesirable futures will be mentioned in an accompanying section on risks and their management.

A less myopic approach might be useful, one which would orient the users of the Theory of Change to a more adaptive stance towards the future.

One way forward would be to think of a four-part Theory of Change, each of which has different implications. as follows

The top right cell may already be covered by a Theory of Change. In the desirable but unlikely, and undesirable but likely two cells it would be useful to have ordered lists that describe events, what needs to be done before they happen, and what needs to be done after they happen. In the unlikely and undesirable cell plans for monitoring the status of these events need to be spelled out, and updated on an ongoing basis