Creating Theories of Change (ToC) with Watershed

Watershed is a strategic partnership under the Dialogue and Dissent programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS), in which four Dutch non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work together with civil society organisations (CSOs) in six countries: Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Ghana and Mali.

Since 2016, the Watershed programme has been working to improve the management of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services by empowering civil society to lobby duty bearers. By strengthening the skills and resources of local CSOs to initiate evidence-based dialogues with governments, this programme aims to improve the standard and sustainability of WASH services, for all. As a member of the partnership, Akvo has facilitated the design of the programme level ToC, and five of the nine country level ToCs, helping to ensure alignment between all partners.

Above: Jacob Baraza from the Centre for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD) participates in the creation of the Theory of Change, Machakos, Kenya, September 2017.







The Netherlands



Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)


Context analysis

Theory of Change

Monitoring framework

The challenge

Creating clarity around what you want to achieve, a common understanding of how change works, and ownership among partners is key in any development project, especially for a programme the scale and complexity of Watershed. Watershed is comprised of multiple partners in different locations, with different resources, interests, capacities and responsibilities. Contributing effectively to the desired impact for Watershed, to achieve sustainable WASH for all in each focus country, is deeply complex. With multiple factors influencing the situation and many different perspectives to consider, a comprehensive and participatory approach is required.

Theory of Change with Watershed
Jacob Baraza from the Centre for Social Planning and Administrative Development (CESPAD) leads a group discussion during the creation of the Theory of Change, Machakos, Kenya, September 2017.

The partnership

Akvo brought its expertise in the ToC methodology to facilitate the design of a ToC, creating a common understanding of how Watershed can contribute to the desired impact: sustainable WASH for all.

Creating a ToC is always a collaborative process, which Akvo facilitated with multiple workshops in several of the Watershed countries. The process begins by zooming out to look at the context. Who are the key people or organisations involved, and what problems and opportunities are there? Once the foundation is laid, it’s time to zoom into the scope of the programme. How can pathways of change be defined between the strategies, what you do, and the impact, what you want to contribute to? What’s more, who is best suited to act within each specific situation?

Once the programme-level ToC was created, Akvo facilitated the development of country-level ToCs, taking into account the specific local context of each country.

The change

When it was clear which local stakeholders needed to do what differently (the expected outcomes) to contribute to impact, and what the Watershed partners need to do to (strategies) to make that happen, the monitoring framework could be developed.

A year into the programme, Akvo facilitated the review of the Theories of Change based on the monitoring findings and changes in local contexts. The monitoring data showed the Watershed teams what progress had been made, but also helped to reflect on the Theory of Change with new understanding. Together, a thorough revision of the earlier Theory of Change was conducted, which was then used as input for the annual plan of 2018.

By looking forward, looking back, zooming out, and zooming in, Akvo helped to create clarity for everyone involved, ensuring that all actions are relevant and strategic, all the while empowering the best people to do the job.