STAGE 3: Test, Learn, and Iterate

Plan for Feedback

At this point you should have:

Intro

Whether you are just launching an initiative or already operating one, you need a process for assessing progress as you implement your theory of change.

Why is assessing progress important? Recall that your theory of change is a series of causal links. So if you don’t do the activities, you won’t achieve the intermediate outcomes. And if the intermediate outcomes don’t occur, you won’t achieve the ultimate outcome and your strategy will fail.

Most social change takes years, if not decades, to achieve. You want to learn as soon as possible when there are problems along the way, since there may be opportunities to avoid or mitigate them.

In this step, you’ll create a plan to collect feedback to learn when problems arise. Hopefully, you’ll be able to make the corrections necessary to get back on track towards success.

Watch this video to explore why monitoring progress is so critical, and how feedback can help you improve your theory of change to have a greater impact.

Planning for Feedback

Before implementing your theory of change, you need to prepare to gather feedback that will tell you when and where there are problems, so that you can make course corrections.

There are two general kinds of valuable feedback.

  1. » Unstructured feedback
    This includes the views of your program’s beneficiaries, other key actors, and your own staff about how things are going. It also includes observations about your own organization and the environment in which it’s operating.
  2. » Structured feedback
    This is progress you can measure along the theory of change.

Let’s explore each type of feedback in depth.

Unstructured Feedback

What do people think and feel? Your strategy is designed to help people improve their lives. Good sources of information about whether it is working are the people you’re trying to help and others who are contributing to or affected by their wellbeing.

Another good source of feedback is your own staff members who are administering the project.

Though you may get early warning signals, most of this information will only be available as you begin implementing. But even before starting, it’s important to know who you will ask for feedback and what form your inquiry will take—for example, through individual interviews, focus groups, or surveys.

What’s the state of your organization and the environment in which it is operating? As you implement your strategy, you will also want to be alert and responsive to:

(If these look familiar, it’s because they are categories you used to anticipate gaps in your theory of change and prevent failures.)

Structured Feedback from Monitoring

During implementation you will also need structured information about how you’re progressing. This is called monitoring. The basic components of a monitoring plan are indicators of progress at each stage of the theory of change, and it is often useful to have targets for each stage.


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Criteria for Indicators

Social entrepreneurs often complain—not without reason—that funders demand reports too often with too many indicators and in too great detail. Staff members sometimes make the same complaints about their leadership.

So how do you choose indicators that are not too difficult to track and that are truly informative about your program’s progress? They should be:

  1. » Meaningful and useful
    They should provide key information about progress or lack of progress, and should inform potential actions you might take to improve your strategy. If you’re not sure whether an indicator is useful, ask yourself whether knowing the result would make a difference to your work.
  2. » Specific
    The indicators should be as clear as possible about the nature and extent of progress you plan to achieve.
  3. » Cost effective
    The indicators should be likely to produce information that is worth the time and money necessary to obtain it.

Jordan's Journey

Let’s check in with Jordan and see how she develops a plan to track her progress with key indicators and targets for her diabetes prevention program.

Lessons in Change

Getting feedback doesn’t have to be complicated. Just keep in mind why you are making the effort. It’s because you benefit from learning about:

Here are answers to common questions about how to gather feedback.

Wrap-up

Monitoring your progress and knowing how you’re doing is critical for every social enterprise. To do this you’ll need to create a plan to collect feedback as you implement your solution.

In this step, take time to determine:

You can use what you learn to improve your theory of change and its implementation—and hence your chances of solving the problem.