By Linda Hien, Impact and Learning Manager
Following the launch of New Horizon Youth Centre’s 2022-25 Strategy, we’ve spent the past three months developing our new theory of change. We’re really proud of the final result – and we’ve learned a lot along the way.
Why create a theory of change?
If we want to support young people to be safe, healthy, equipped and housed, we need to know what works and doesn’t work, why, and how to prove it. Having a theory of change means we can better measure and communicate the difference we make – whether it’s for the young people we support directly or the young people we may never meet.
As well as helping us clarify young people’s key outcomes and strengthening our evaluation, the process of developing our theory of change has brought staff together; all teams were involved in creating a cohesive and purposeful definition of our work. That included the work we already do – and do really well – and work we’re aspiring towards and learning how to do better.
We wanted staff and young people to feel proud of and see themselves in the theory of change, so the process needed to be collaborative and involve as many perspectives as possible. We held several creative workshops consulting 20 young people (across prisons, the community and our day centre) and almost all of our staff, and set up a Theory of Change Working Group to review drafts and be a critical friend throughout the process.
It was challenging at times. As you might expect with staff across disciplines and with a wealth of expertise, there was lots of discussion around the best language to use; how changes among young people happen, and when; and how to distill so many young people’s different experiences into one document. It was no small feat to summarise decades of work and adequately represent all four of our strong service areas as well as our policy and partnerships work.
By the end of the process, though, we could easily see the similarities across teams – both in the value we saw in our work, and our ways of working.
The resulting theory of change is:
- True to us: our ‘mechanisms of change’ i.e. how we work with young people reflects the unique work we do on the ground. We believe our approach is a crucial part of young people’s ability to build a foundation and begin making positive changes.
- Flexible: we’re aware that young people’s journeys aren’t linear, and a theory of change can never truly capture everyone’s experiences. Our theory of change illustrates that young people can go through and between several paths. For example, a young person supported in custody might have a different experience and reach different outcomes compared to someone who arrives at our day centre. Or two young people who use our services at the same time may face different barriers, but we’ll support them to navigate the issues they come up against.
- A stepping stone: now that we’ve defined the key outcomes we believe young people and the system will experience, our next step is to refine the way we measure these outcomes, so that we can collect more robust evidence and better understand how we impact young people’s lives.
- Evolving: we know a theory of change is never ‘finished’ – as we update our evaluation processes, understand more about young people’s paths into and out of our services, and learn what is making the most impact on the young people we support, our theory will continue to evolve and adapt to meet young people where they’re at.
We’d like to thank Sally Cupitt Consulting and Sarah McCoy who worked with us to develop our theory of change; to all of the young people who participated in our workshops and gave important feedback; and to all staff for their invaluable contributions.