In this short video, Eliza Kozman explains why developing a theory of change is a crucial foundation in the evaluation process. She also speaks about the importance of practitioners and evaluators working together and how effective evidence and evaluation will help the higher education sector tackle inequalities.

A summarised transcript of the conversation with Eliza is provided below. 

I am new to higher education. Do I need to have research skills to evaluate my initiatives?

Everyone can and should be involved in evaluation in a team. You may not be an evaluator or researcher, however, if you are involved in running a programme you will have a variety of skills and knowledge that will be important to bring into the evaluation process. You can help to inform that evaluation, making sure it is good and well suited to what you are trying to do.

Evaluation helps you understand who the programme is for, what it aims to do and how it will be implemented.”

Even though you are not an evaluator you may be the best-placed person to answer those questions. Therefore, evaluation is important for everyone to get involved in, even though you may not have done so before.

I have never evaluated anything. What is the first step?

At TASO we have a step-by-step approach to evaluation, which takes place in four phrases, Diagnose, Plan, Measure, and Reflect.

In that first diagnose stage, a really important step is to set up your theory of change. This is a diagram or map which sets out all of the elements of the programme you are evaluating.”

A theory of change is a vital and valuable document, which should be shared by evaluators, practitioners and anyone who will be involved in delivering your activity or evaluating it.

A theory of change helps you clarify your aims and activities, what you are trying to achieve as a team and the expected impact. Therefore sharing it with everyone in your team is crucial so they can have a good shared understanding of the programme and activities that will be evaluated.

What are the next steps once I have developed my theory of change?

Use your theory of change to set up your research questions and to decide on your outcome measures”

Once your theory of change has been agreed with everyone involved in the evaluation process, it can be used to set and plan the kinds of research questions you may ask.

A theory of change is also useful in helping you decide your outcome measures, such as thinking about how you are going to measure the impact of your programme to answer the research questions planned. A theory of change is a really important foundation document for all of the bits of planning that come next in our evaluation cycle.

What are your top tips on getting started?

Tip one: Involve as many people as you can, practitioners and evaluators working together”

Working together and involving as many people as you can is a really strong model to make sure you thoroughly understand your activity and then everything else can come from there.

Tip two: As an evaluator, a really important part of the process is to repeat back your understanding of a programme”

Even if you are confident that you have a good understanding of a programme, it is important to write it down, repeat it back and seek feedback.

This cycle of getting as close as possible to a really good, thorough theory of change is an important part of the process.

Tip 3: Evaluation is not everyone’s priority every single day, it may not be on top of your to-do list but it is still important to make time for it”

We are all interested in tackling inequality therefore we should remember that effective evaluation helps the sector do this and allows us to make a difference in higher education.