How do we track progress in sustainability? It’s not an easy task, but thanks to the work done by a group called Foundations of Success there is a method that is making it possible. It is called the "theory of change."
In reality, the idea is quite simple: It asks you to start at one end of the chain with your problem and through a series of steps end up at your desired solution. Especially in the world of sustainability, this requires people to think about all the different factors that create an outcome. The theory of change comes from the “Open Standard for the Practice of Conservation” from Foundations of Success. It is based on adaptive management and uses the idea that making an impact in our world is possible as long as you are selecting the right variables to measure.
There is a common problem of wanting to see change in our world without stopping to think about the process to do so. There are so many great innovations for a sustainable future, but many do not take the time to think about the steps needed to achieve their desired output. The theory of change does just that. It asks you to fill in the blank in between that statement: “if…then.”
The reasoning behind this is the number of direct and indirect threats and factors that can affect the success of some of the more abstract ideas in sustainability. How does protecting a section of forest in the Amazon create a change in attitudes of native people toward sustainable forestry? The theory of change shows us that this outcome will be much more successful if we build out a model that shows how this change can occur and asks people to identify not only the threats but the measurable impacts as well.
Sustainability is the key to our future and the concepts and models developed by Foundations of Success is a process that, if more widely used, can help the success of many projects and innovations to create a more sustainable world and future. How will you measure your impact? What is the outcome of your idea and how will you achieve it?