Large benefits from tiny forests: a Theory of Change in nature education
In the Netherlands, 60% of the population is raised in an urban environment, detached from nature. The IVN Tiny Forest programme aims to reconnect city people with nature. Tiny forests are densely vegetated indigenous forests, the size of a tennis court, in urban areas. Such forests attract insects, birds and small mammals, while children from nearby schools come to the tiny forests to learn about nature. Children who grow up close to nature are expected to show nature-friendly behaviour and make nature-friendly decisions later in life. Tiny forests also contribute to making cities climate resilient by improving air quality, reducing heat-stress, conserving water, and stimulating biodiversity.
Above: Theory of Change workshop with the Tiny Forest project team.
At organisation level, IVN flagged some results-monitoring challenges, such as that the focus is on monitoring short-term, project activities, instead of at the level of the mission, or at impact level. IVN’s different projects and programmes were not always interconnected, leading to islands of data and monitoring results. This hampered internal learning and steering, as well as external communication on “aggregated results”. The Tiny Forest programme was selected as a pilot case to try out developing a useful Theory of Change with Akvo, as a basis for annual planning, as well as more meaningful and useful monitoring. Afterwards, IVN would be able to apply the ToC approach for other programmes as well as at organisational level.
Akvo designed a practical, concrete and quick Theory of Change development process, with a Training of Trainers element. The sessions were co-designed and co-facilitated with a small team from IVN, so they would be able to repeat the process later on.
In a two-day workshop, the context of the Tiny Forest programme was mapped (levels of influence and interest of relevant actors, and factors to be addressed), the ToC diagram was built, and a number of causal assumptions (why do we think change will happen this way?) were formulated.
For the Tiny Forests programme, the behavioural change of actors outside the programme team is absolutely central. Collectively making explicit who these actors are is key to formulating concrete, actionable intended outcomes: which actor is expected to do what differently? For example “Teachers give more classes outside”, “Children come into contact with nature more”, “People living in the neighbourhood visit the Tiny Forests'' and “Funds, businesses and government want to continue to finance Tiny Forests (because they know the positive effects)”.
After formulating the intended outcomes, they were placed in cause-effect relations, to show the logical sequence from activities, through outcomes, to impact. This is also a relevance-check: are we doing the right thing to make the intended outcomes happen?
With the ToC finalised, the Tiny Forest team could use it to decide which intended outcomes and impact to monitor, with which indicators and methods. With such a monitoring framework (not part of Akvo’s support) IVN would be able to learn, steer, report and communicate about more than just activities done. The Tiny Forest ToC can also be used to adjust activities where necessary so they contribute to the intended outcomes and impact.