Theory of Change and Results Based Management

Theory of Change (ToC) is a methodology for planning, participation, and evaluation that is used in the not-for-profit and government sectors to promote social change[1]. Theory of Change defines long-term goals and then maps backward to identify necessary preconditions. ToC explains the process of change by outlining causal linkages in an initiative, i.e. its shorter-term, intermediate, and longer-term outcomes. The identified changes are mapped – as the ‘outcomes pathway’ – showing each outcome in logical relationship to all the others, as well as chronological flow – see Figure below. The innovation of ToC lies in making the distinction between desired and actual outcomes, and in requiring stakeholders to model their desired outcomes before they decide on forms of intervention to achieve those outcomes. ToC is a form of critical theory that ensures a transparent distribution of power dynamics. Further, the process is necessarily inclusive of many perspectives and participants in achieving solutions.

Results-based management (RBM) is a management strategy which uses feedback loops to achieve strategic goals[2]. All people and organisations (actors) who contribute directly or indirectly to the result, map out their processes, products and services, showing how they contribute to the outcome – see Figure I.2b. This outcome may be a physical output, a change, an impact or a contribution to a higher level goal. Information (evidence) of the actual results is used for accountability, reporting and to feedback into the design, resourcing and delivery of projects and operational activities. Key steps include:

  • Assess: what is the current situation?
  • Think: what caused it? Who is involved?
  • Envision: what are we going to achieve?
  • Plan: how are we going to do it? With whom? When? With what resources?
  • Do: get it done. How is it going? Do we need to adapt?
  • Review: what went well/badly? What can we learn for next time?

The RBM-approach also resonates with the so-called OODA-loop, a strategic decision-making approach in military operations, standing for:

observe – orient – decide – act


The model outlines a four-point decision loop that supports quick, effective and proactive decision-making:


  • Observe: collect current information from as many sources as practically possible;
  • Orient: analyse this information, and use it to update your current reality;
  • Decide: determine a course of action;
  • Act: follow through on your decision.


One continues to cycle through the OODA-loop by observing the results of ones actions, seeing whether the intended results were achieved, reviewing and revising the initial decision, and moving to the next action.


Relating the OODA-Loop to RBM learns that while ‘observe’ combines the ‘assess’ and ‘think’ phases, ‘orient’ is setting out a direction or ‘vision’; while ‘plan’ includes the ‘decide’, ‘do’ and ‘review‘are part of the ‘act’. We will further complement these RBM and OODA-approaches when we talk about planning phases and processes.

[1] See and

[2] See and ‘Results-Based Management Handbook’, Harmonising RBM concepts and approaches for improved development results at country level, UNDG, 2011