Theories of Change and Anchor Organisations

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged about this research project, and in that time I’ve had some great meetings and interviews with Anchor organisations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as some down time in between to reflect, and tinker with a theory of change which I’ve been trying to develop as a framework for this research. In fact, the theory of change has been the main reason for the delay of this blog. I have been going back and forth, adding and editing it, and haven’t quite felt it was ready to share yet. I still don’t think it’s quite right, but I am ready for some critical feedback to help improve and develop it.

So, with all the relevant health checks and caveats in place, here goes. The diagram below is a very draft theory of change for an Anchor organisation, based on everything I’ve read, seen and heard so far in this research. It set out activities, outputs, assumptions and outcomes for a hypothetical Anchor organisation, which could be working in any sector or geography. I’m also interested in setting out similar theories of change from the perspective of independent funders – who are a really key part of all this work – and for an entire locality, but this one is limited to the activities of one (hypothetical) Anchor organisation.

A few things to bear in mind when you look at this diagram – which I’m hoping to get a designer’s input on sooner rather than later to make it a bit more reader friendly.

  • The activities are quite high level: underneath each of these ‘buckets’ is a whole host of different ideas, projects and policies which Anchor organisations have introduced in their organisations. I’ll write these up in more detail for the final research report, but for now they illustrate a type of activity, such as procurement or recruitment policies.
  • The assumptions are the most under-developed section: I think there are a lot more assumptions which would underpin the success of an Anchor organisation, but these are the most common ones which have emerged so far.
  • Real life isn’t this neat: there are lots of inter-dependencies, mutually reinforcing activities, and overlapping elements which theory of change diagrams aren’t always great at capturing. For example, for many Anchor organisations the local ‘community’ is also where a lot of the organisation’s own staff live, so there is something of a false distinction between the two groups. There’s a lot of complexity which I haven’t represented here, but hope to find other ways to do so later on in the research.

With all that in mind, I hope this sets out a little more clearly what Anchor organisations are doing to achieve their aims, and the relationship between some of their activities, outputs and outcome. I look forward to hearing back from you on what makes sense – and what doesn’t.

(As a side note, I’ve really enjoyed looking at some of the infographics produced by the democracy collaborative that show some of the other ways of communicating what Anchor organisations are, and how they can influence and improve the local economy).

Next up – New Orleans to meet with some of the leading advocates of Anchor work in the city.

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