A theory of change is not as grand as it sounds – it’s just a term that refers to making explicit the thinking behind why a programme, project or intervention will make a difference to the people or communities it seeks to serve.
Outcome mapping is the centrepiece of our approach, and the cornerstone of our software OutNav.
Why ‘outcome mapping’?
We call our approach to understanding change ‘outcome mapping’ for a few reasons:
Outcomes are a good way to visualise and work towards the change you seek in the world. Many organisations or projects have outcomes expressed in their mission or are working to outcomes determined by funders.
We work with organisations or programmes to map how the activities they deliver reach the outcomes that are important to them. Outcome mapping is a simple way of describing this process.
We use the terms ‘outcomes’ and ‘impacts’ interchangeably as we find that different sectors have their own preferences on this. Some just use outcomes, some impact and some use both.
A clear and accesible approach to understanding change
Some ways of representing theories of change can result in complicated diagrams, which can make it difficult to get a good understanding of the change processes and are challenging to evaluate.
For us, outcome mapping is an interactive approach to setting out a theory of change based on a framework we express using our headings:
We believe that the plain language approach helps to refine thinking about the programme or project in question. We separate out outcomes into different levels that help understand the change mechanism that underpins people-based work. We think about outcomes at the level of reactions, knowledge skills and capacities, changes in behaviour policy or practice, and at the level of longer-term social change.
We have another insight post that explains the rationale for our headings and how they work.
Our approach to mapping outcomes provides a clear and accessible way of breaking down and understanding the change process. It is important to note that whilst it is possible to show an overall change process in a progressive way, we recognise that change doesn’t happen in simple, linear ways. Many organisations we work with use their outcome maps to tell the stories of these complex and often circular change journeys
Outcome mapping on different scales
Since we set up Matter of Focus in 2017, we have held outcome mapping workshops for more than 160 public service organisations and partnerships.
We usually work with organisations to create one or more outcome maps that set out how their activities reach outcomes.
In some cases this has been for simple projects and community groups, such as Reeltime Music. However, we specialise in supporting complex organisations and partnerships where external facilitation and a very conceptually robust process is essential to make progress. That would include the Scottish Government Public Health Reform team, to map how different people contribute to improving public health in Scotland; or mapping whole policy areas, such as Self-Directed Support; and helping organisations demonstrate how their innovative approaches make a difference across multiple delivery areas, such as Penumbra.
Find out more about who is using our approach.
Putting your outcome map into action
Outcome maps and the pathways you plot through them provide a lens through which you can begin to see what data, information and feedback you need to collect and analyse to help understand the change processes and evidence your initiative’s progress towards the change it’s looking to make.
While we have been supporting organisations to map out their contribution to outcomes for many years, we set up Matter of Focus with the ambition of building a software that would hold and support the approach – which we have done.