Theory of Change for Partnerships - Part 2: Indicators and Probing for Progress

September 20, 2023

We use indicators for all sorts of things: is there enough petrol in the car (check the gauge); is the bath water too hot (stick your finger in it); am I a chance for that next promotion at work (does my boss think I’m any good).

The same is true for partnerships: indicators help us understand if we are working well together, if we’re achieving our shared and individual goals, and if our collective efforts are efficient and effective.

A shared understanding of a partnership’s vision for change and unique contributions, documented in a partnership's Theory of Change, provides the foundations for developing useful and meaningful indicators of change.

While indicators are probes or tools for understanding if change has taken place, and if so, in what direction, they don’t necessarily provide information on why or why not a change has taken place – just that it has. There are a range of elements partnerships may wish to develop indicators for. These include:

  • The foundations of the partnership: such as trust among stakeholders, participation, and commitment
  • The activities of the partnership: such as convening stakeholders, curating knowledge, creating a common narrative, advocating to decision-makers, and gaining commitments
  • The results of the partnership: which may include changes for members of the partnership, as well as external changes that the partnership has influenced, such as public or private sector policy, shifts in public awareness, investment in key areas, or adoption of innovations by target groups, organisations, or sectors
  • The broader environment: in which a partnership operates – the rates of illness and disease, emissions, farming and fishing practices, educational attainment, or community wellbeing.
No alt text provided for this image

Why do it?

Indicators help us understand those elements of most importance to partnerships, and if, in what direction, and how much they are changing. Indicators allow those within and external to a partnership to understand, assess, and improve the work of the partnership, as well as hold each other to account. They also allow comparisons to be made, such as between countries, organisations, over time, or against one or more standards.

It’s therefore important that the indicators chosen for these partnerships are meaningful, measurable, and agreed upon. Indicators may be developed for all aspects of a partnership – how it is structured, what it does (i.e. processes), and what it achieves (i.e. outcomes). Example indicators within these categories include:

  • Structural Indicators: Number and growth of members; the proportion of target sectors or geographies represented, governance meetings held, and attendance; levels of reported trust; partnership income and expenditure
  • Process Indicators: Number and details of strategic dialogues held; the proportion of members participating, and knowledge products created; citations of partnership materials and products; number of in-bound inquiries
  • Outcome Indicators: Proportion of public reporting a shift in perceptions or attitudes toward an issue; number and details of new laws, regulations, or policies passed by governing bodies; new standards and practices adopted by influential stakeholders; changes in attitudes, values or beliefs among partners themselves

Spending time developing indicators can be detailed, but valuable work. It is often through discussing and considering indicators that teams within partnerships move from conceptual ideas to concrete measures. In doing so, these discussions help to uncover shared beliefs, differences of opinion, and assumptions on the destination a partnership is headed towards, as well as varied expectations stakeholders have of a partnership’s structure, processes, and pathways for change. It requires a certain amount of looking in at what and how your partnership might measure, and a certain amount of looking out at what and how others in your sector are measuring and tracking.

No alt text provided for this image

What do good indicators look like?

There are some common features of good indicators that are applicable across different partnerships working in different domains. These features include:

  • Specific: they are focused, defined, and at relevant levels of measurement
  • Valid: they measure what they say they will measure
  • Reliable: they consistently generate the same results
  • Feasible: they are possible to collect with available resources
  • Timely: they provide information when it is most useful
  • Meaningful: they hold value for those who are interpreting and using them

It is rare that an indicator of change or a way of thinking about measuring change won’t have existed in someone else’s work before. Much work and attention is given to the validation, standardisation, and consideration of indicators.

Options to begin identifying and developing indicators for Partnerships can be complicated – though some that may support the process include:

  • Look out: Review what others are measuring and what gets attention
  • Look in: Revisit your partnership’s Theory of Change and consider what features of it you need to measure, and what features you’d like to measure (they aren’t always the same). For outcomes and impacts, consider what you might see, hear, or read about if that outcome or impact became a reality
  • Consolidate: begin developing a repository of potentially relevant indicators – these may relate to how a partnership is structured, what it does (i.e. its processes), or what results it seeks (i.e. its outcomes and impacts)
  • Make it shared: what you’ll consider an important and feasible indicator (for example) may be different from another member of your partnership. Invest in processes that allow groups and teams to review, interrogate and refine your indicators, which may be through discussion, debate, and rating activities

Key Resources

We have prepared practical frameworks and contemporary thinking on identifying and developing indicators for partnerships – as well as how to measure and report on what your partnership is doing and what has been achieved. To help your partnerships remain relevant and meaningful to the complex and continually shifting context in which they’re operating, visit Day Four Projects’ Good Partnership & Collaboration Resources.

No alt text provided for this image

Led by Dr. Cam Willis and Dr. Nic Vogelpoel, Day Four Projects is a research, evaluation, co-design, and knowledge translation consultancy focused on public and global health, social impact, sustainable development, and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

We work with international and domestic partners from multilateral organisations, governments, NGOs, CSOs, philanthropy, social enterprises, and think tanks on assignments that often involve:

  • Designing and evaluating multi-stakeholder platforms and partnerships
  • Scaling social innovation and collaboration in complex settings
  • Embedding lived experience in research, co-design, and evaluation
  • Designing whole-of-organisation impact measurement and management systems
  • Facilitating leadership action planning, system mapping, Theory of Change, and strategy design

If you have a project in mind, we’d love to hear from you.