Transformative change efforts are often more successful when they are guided by theory. Change theories refer to frameworks that help to explain how aspects of change occur that are generalizable beyond a single initiative and that are grounded in evidence. In contrast, a theory of change is developed for a specific change initiative and details the underlying assumptions of how change is expected to occur for that initiative. Theories of change typically articulate the expected outcomes for a change initiative and are useful for planning, implementing, and evaluating a project .
For the Departmental Action Team project, we spent several years developing, testing, and refining a theory of change (TOC). The process of creating a TOC helped us to define essential aspects of the DAT model and establish flexibility in its implementation across two campuses. As we implemented DATs, we checked the progression of each DAT against the TOC. This practice helped us to plan what steps to take with our DATs to reach desired outcomes and tested our assumptions about what outcomes are necessary to achieve change through the DAT model.
We documented this work in a paper that outlines the development of our TOC and an unpublished, internal document that articulates the assumptions embedded in the logic of how one outcome leads to the next in our TOC. The internal document brings together literature related to organizational change, individual change agency, and culture to ground our assumptions in why one outcome might relate to others. Work on our TOC is ongoing, and our current NSF grant supports the development of the final stage of our TOC, which describes the lasting impacts of DATs in their departments.