A Theory of Action (ToA) details the actions that will be taken to implement the solution proposed in the theory of change. It must clearly articulate how the magnet school staff will get from A to B and the impact of this work. In this example, the ToA will propose using a magnet program and will create a step-by-step plan for the resources and activities necessary to implement the personalized STEM instruction. In addition, it will define short- and medium-term outcomes that will help track progress toward the long-term outcome of increased student achievement.
In the ToA, you will identify the:
- Magnet program’s current context
- The inputs (resources) needed to implement the program effectively
- The activities that will be conducted
- The outputs that will be produced by those activities
- The short-, mid- and long-term outcomes that will result.
The process to create a ToA is most effective when, in alignment with Pillar 1, diverse perspectives and viewpoints are represented. If you are facilitating a ToA process that will transpire over a number of weeks and have participants coming from more than one location, more participants initially are better than fewer participants.
Some general assumptions when designing a ToA include:
- Each department supporting the magnet school or program will collaborate to achieve the desired outcome.
- The current enrollment, achievement, and qualitative data will be used.
- The magnet program will be incorporated into a coherent educational system (i.e., a system that addresses the MSA Pillars and aligns with district goals and initiatives).
A key component of the ToA experience is the process of “backwards mapping,” beginning with the long-term outcome and working back toward the earliest changes that need to occur. This is the opposite of how we usually think about planning, because it starts with asking, “What preconditions must exist for the long-term outcome to be reached?”
Creating a Magnet ToA follows these general steps:
Step 1 – Planning
- Review the vision and tenets.
- Create an initial “high-level” theory of action to describe the big-picture components and illustrate how these major components relate to one another.
- Decide the level of detail that can be represented in a single diagram.
- Identify how the magnet program is connected to stakeholders such as parents, students, teachers, community or others in the district.
Step 2 – Creating
- Outline the immediate-, mid- and long-term successes or outcomes necessary to achieve the ultimate magnet school goal(s).
- Hypothesize the actions, practices or processes by which these outcomes will be achieved.
- Inputs, Assumptions and Risks
- State the operating assumptions about what resources will be available to the group and ensure that the chain of logic for attaining goals and the underlying assumptions are cohesive.List potential uncertainties, unintended consequences and catalysts associated with the assumptions and work.
Step 3 – Finalizing
- The Theory of Change
1. Begin the process of defining the long-term outcome with some group brainstorming. Some questions you may want to pose to the group are:
a. How will you know if your project has been successful?
b. If the local newspaper were to write a headline on the success of this project, what would it say?
c. What are your stakeholders expecting to see?
d. What preconditions must exist for the long-term outcome to be reached?
2. Have group members write down their ideas on sticky notes and post them on the board.
3. Once you have completed the brainstorming process, group the ideas based on similarities.
4. A group discussion should then follow on the ideas presented.
5. Obtain group agreement on the ideas that should be included.
6. When you have captured that information, continue to repeat the process for each of the outcomes you just identified.