By Bequie Lake

The following is a reflection on and application of the theory of change developed by the How Change Happens Knowledge Hub.

This case study explores how the Theory of Change can be used as a tool to identify assumptions and gaps in our public engagement interventions. I worked with a volunteer program that engages young Canadians in learning about international development and related issues.

Through the program, the young people learn a lot about issues affecting communities in Canada and other countries. They also develop skills like critical thinking and personal reflection through group educational activities, and debriefing their experiences with the supervisors and other participants (personal change). They work for six months on a cross-cultural team, so they get better at working cross-culturally and making decisions with groups (relational change). Many develop an understanding of power and privilege that helps them to understand their choices more critically (active global citizenship).

The program doesn’t usually engage directly with making change to structures (societal change), because it is a relatively short-term engagement. The philosophy of many people who work in the program is that the youth who finish it will go on to do work at the societal level. While anecdotally, this is often true, it is not always easy to demonstrate how big a role their participation in the program played in influencing those choices.

Questions for reflection:

  • Does helping young people to develop skills, knowledge and attitudes lead to longer-term engagement in work at the societal level?
  • Are there interventions needed to make a bridge from the personal and relational change to societal change?