Theory of change builds on 11 years of experience

As 2016 winds down, we begin our annual blog series where Health Forward associates review highlights from our work this past year. In our sixth post, Jane Mosley explains the benefits of our newly developed theories of change. Join us as we look back on 2016.  For the past year, Health Forward has worked to develop theories of change (TOC) for our funding areas of safety net, mental health and healthy communities. This framework shows how and why we expect to see change and provides a mechanism to assess progress towards outcomes.  
The theory of change is not a departure from, but rather builds upon, our past 11 years of grant experience and learning from our community partners.
Developing these TOCs has  has enabled us to be more intentional about each grant round and to clarify both our desired outcomes and the strategies we believe will be necessary to achieve them. It also allows us to better measure the work of our grantees and aggregating the outcomes so that we can more fully tell the story of our grantmaking. The theory of change is not a departure from, but rather builds upon, our past 11 years of grant experience and learning from our community partners. The strategies that we have outlined and the outcomes we hope to achieve should sound familiar to many of our partners. We debuted the safety net theory of change in January of this year and just recently shared the healthy communities theory of change. We are will debut the mental health theory of change in February at our pre-proposal conference for that round.   We believe there are many benefits of developing and using theories of change:
  • Better communicate expectations for funding to potential grantees.
  • Better track and measure progress against long-term goals.
  • Provide a process for on-going review of performance and outcome data, including exploring implications for future grantmaking.
  • Hold Health Forward accountable.
There will be some growing pains. Using this framework will require increased learning capacity on the part of both grantees and Health Forward staff. But we believe the extra effort is worth it. It will help us clarify our ultimate outcomes and the rationale behind them to give a clear direction for those applying for Health Forward funding. In this way, we view this as not only a tool for us, but one for you as well, to see how your organization’s work aligns with Health Forward. Our methods may evolve but our priority remains the same: eliminating barriers to quality health for those who need it most and to do so in a partnership with our grantees. Read more from authors in this series:

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Health Forward Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact Health Forward Communications Officer Jennifer Sykes, at

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