Systemic Theory of Change (ToC)


The Systemic ToC takes a system lens to discover the plausible routes leading to impact (as opposed to the tunnel vision lens of the Logframe depicting the temporal sequence from inputs to outcomes), and is most useful for strategy development and learning in complex environments.

Systemic ToC is a method used as part of the PIALA package, but also offered as a stand-alone service, for creating alignment and shared commitment to achieving profound impact requiring system change. It is both a process and a tool, and seeks to enable organisations and their teams and partners to:

  • articulate the collective impact they aim for,

  • engage stakeholders to develop shared language and commitment,

  • identify the multiple pathways by which they believe impact could be achieved under changing conditions, and

  • assess over time whether together they are moving the system in the desired direction.


The tool is a graphic presentation plus narrative description of the causal routes leading to impact, which evolves over time and never reaches the stage of a final product. The process is an ongoing action research with the partners to test the hypotheses, on the basis of which the tool and related strategies are regularly “refreshed”.

The method can be of great value for

  1. Strategy design for “collective impact” initiatives involving multiple partners and stakeholders with opposing interests (public and business) and needing trans-sectoral collaboration.

  2. Impact assessment and learning requiring a system lens —e.g. in value chain development, inclusive governance, and education reform initiatives.

  3. Linking and alignment of different investment streams towards creating greater synergies and achieving a more profound impact.


We help our clients to

1. Develop their meta-level corporate, sectoral and country-specific ToCs, as well as ToCs for specific investment funds or individual initiatives.

2. Reconstruct, adjust or integrate the (impilicitly or explicitly) existing ToCs of different levels and strands of work, in a way that meaningfully engages the different stakeholders and ensure optimal buy-in.

3. Learn how to use a Systemic ToC approach for impact assessment and learning together with partners, grantees, clients or beneficiaries, and other stakeholders.