Theory of Change, a guiding framework and a mindset to embrace

Piera Mattioli
7 min readFeb 15, 2021

Think about impact — make impact

While attending the Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Innovation Management at Amani Institute, I had the chance to work with Instituto Mundo Aflora -Brazil- with the goal of helping them develop their Theory of Change.

As a Service and Strategic designer I help organisations design strategies to deliver innovative solutions. To achieve this, I guide their transformation to develop and implement conditions and capabilities for Human-Centred innovation.

I come from the corporate world, where the only impact that is measured and evaluated is the economic benefit, conversion rate and NPS (Net Promoter Score) -if the organisations are at the stage to collect data and evaluate customer experience.

What if the Theory of Change was used by for profit organisations to design, starting from their purpose, how their product, services, communication and activities can contribute having an impact in the world?

In this article I want to:
• Share the knowledge and experience I have gained through my work at Instituto Mundo Aflora and empower other actors of change;
• Share my vision on how for-profit organisations could transform themselves in the near future and how they will could and should take social responsibility for the solutions they deliver;
• Reflect on how to apply the Theory of Change framework, a tool mainly used by social enterprises, to enable this transformation and create strategies for positive impact;
• Invite the reader to embrace an impact approach mindset from now on.

Open your mind and enjoy the transformation!

1. 🔭 Theory of Change as a guiding model to transform businesses

While organisations in the social sector are embedding tools and techniques from the corporate world to be more strategic and innovative in their business models, for profit organisations are talking about their mission and vision in reference to their contribution to the world without making real changes in their DNA.

In my day-to-day job inside of big corporate ecosystems, my goal as a Service Designer is to bring in the perspective of the user and create solutions that answer to real human needs.
This means changing processes, ways of working, creating spaces for conversations among departments and designing shared visions, strategies and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) within the organisation.

While leading Human-Centred transformation inside of organisations, I still see value propositions led by the economic benefit and solutions evaluated on metrics that are not yet taking into account the role they play in the ecosystem where they live, and thus the impact in the world.

What if the corporate world would start reframing their purpose using the Theory of Change as a model to analyse their activities, realign with their purpose through designing impact strategies, and establishing metrics that contribute to a different vision of the world?

This is the transformational journey I envision for-profit organisations going through in the near future:

Analysis of the system where the organisation lives.

Starting from the value, definition of purpose.

Co-creation of a vision of impact as a guiding star, the desired change the organisation wants to contribute to.

From there, a backwards mapping and the definition of the preconditions for that change to happen is needed.
Reflection on the activities and the role the organisation plays within this framework.
(Theory of Change)

Re-alignment: How are the activities contributing to the ultimate vision?
What needs to be leveraged in the organisational ecosystem to enable change?
The Theory of Change can be used as a model to redesign a strategy for impact.

Designing of a new Leadership system (Leveraging the genetics of Leadership, Daniel Edds), where the vision of change is part of the organization’s DNA.

A Human-Centred transformation in every step of the process: listening and co-creation with users, beneficiaries and employees.

The vision of change and the Sustainable Development Goals as guiding stars for future decisions.

2. ✏️ Theory of Change, a powerful tool

Today the Theory of Change is mainly used by organisations in the social sector to picture and understand how their activities are playing a role to achieve the vision of change, the reason for which they exist.

The Vision of Change is the long term, sustainable social change the organisation wants to help bring about.

When the overview is completed, each piece of the system is matched with a metric that can be used to evaluate the impact and its progress.

A powerful tool used to create alignment internally in the organisation, foster awareness with community and stakeholders on how the activities are interconnected with the ultimate vision, and evidence of their effectiveness.

3. 👁 Systemic Change: the big picture

In order to create an impact and make a change it is important to tackle the problem from different perspectives.

This is why, as Service Designers, our work is mainly about creating change inside of organisations so that new innovative solutions can be created and delivered.

As an example, Instituto Mundo Aflora’s purpose is to contribute to a society in which all youth have opportunities to accomplish their projects and dreams.

Theory of Change designed for Instituto Mundo Aflora

They take part in this vision by working on the effective reintegration of girls and young women who were in the Juvenile Justice System.

To achieve this, they create change on different levels:
• By empowering the girls in the Juvenile Justice System;
• By training the employees of the “Casas” where the girls are located;
• By changing the collective way of thinking as regards as young women that have been inside of the Juvenile Justice System;
• By influencing public policies and contribute to the creation of a supportive legal and institutional environment.

Each one of these levels of change are interconnected and essential to achieve the ultimate impact.

4. 🧠 Impact as a mindset to embrace

To make an impact in the world you need to think about impact.

When you design a project strategy, a communication approach, or simply in your day-to day life when you make choices reflect on:

  1. Activity & Outputs: What are the activities you are performing and what kind of output are these activities generating?
  2. Outcome: What are the consequence of each one of these outputs?
  3. Impact: What is the overall impact of these consequences?

It’s important to understand that change happens in a systemic way and we are part of a bigger constellation.

I want to invite you from now on, to reflect on the consequences and impact generated (or triggered) by the activities you are proposing and/or performing.

5. 🔝 What is the impact I am trying to achieve through this post?

As a visualiser my goal is to make complexity easy to understand and tackle.
If you are curious to understand what was my impact goal when designing this post, go back to the cover of the article and have a look at its theory of change.

Embrace impact as a state of mind and be mindful about your actions.
Together we can build a better world.

Here some readings to learn more about the Theory of Change.
Theory of Change DIY Canvas
Theory of Change Guide
Other references previously mentioned:
Business Models for Social Enterprises
• Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, Daniel Edds

I am a Human-Centred Designer, Facilitator and Visual Storyteller researching on how to put my skills in service to create Social Impact for both the corporate sector, to place humanity and purpose at the core of each activity, and the non-profit sector, to create innovative services and business models to enable NGO scale their impact while being sustainable.
If you have feedback or thoughts to share, feel free to say
hello 👋🏽



Piera Mattioli

Independent Service designer , Facilitator and Visual Storyteller