The best software to create a Theory of Change

  • Type: Guidance & research reports
  • Sectors:
    Arts and culture, Children and families, Citizenship and communities, Community development, Crime and public safety, Disability, Domestic violence, Education and learning, Employment and training, Environment, Housing and homelessness, Infrastructure support, International development, Mental health, Older people, Physical health, Sport, Substance use and addiction, Volunteering, Young people
  • Cost: Free
  • Developer/Author: NCVO

One of the things we’re often asked is how we create the maps for our theories of change. While Microsoft Word or Excel are good starting points, what else is out there? In this blog, we share our favourites (so you can get started on your map creation!) from our review of the many tools on offer.

What tools are out there?

There are an overwhelming number of software options available – both paid for and free to use. We searched the web for all the theory of change and mind mapping software we could find. The image below shows our map of the market with an initial ranking from ‘yay’ to ‘boo’ below.

Our favourite tools

We judged each of the tools above using a short criterion.[1] From this, our top four tools are:

  1. Google Drawings
  2. MindMup
  3. Coggle
  4. Changeroo

Each tool is explained more below, with pros and cons. Click read more to see our full review of each tool.

Google Drawings

is a free, web-based diagramming software developed by Google. It allows users to collaborate and work together in real time

Google Drawings is really great: intuitive, easy to use and clean design. And free to boot!  You have the added bonus of being able to use keyboard shortcuts and therefore it is very quick to produce the map. If you want to add any narrative, assumptions or comments, you can simply use a Google Doc. You can share it with someone with or without a Google account and they can add comments. It isn’t specifically designed for theory of change, so you need to know what you want to create in the first place. You can also download using a wide variety of download options including .jpg, .png and .pdf.

MindMup

Create unlimited mind maps for free, and store them in the cloud. Your mind maps are available everywhere, instantly, from any device.

MindMup is a great tool, originally designed for mind mapping but lends itself very well to theories of change. You can use your Microsoft account to sign in and it uses Microsoft-style formatting. You can add notes (to show indicators) and create ‘storyboards’ (slides for each box, in any order) and download into a PPT or PDF. It’s very intuitive, with an attractive layout and the ability to add images.

But there are a couple of limitations. First, it is not theory of change-specific and therefore you need to know what you are doing. Second, you can’t fully control how the arrows meet the boxes, i.e. at which side. This is a design snag that needs ironing out. It’s not a free tool, though it is very affordable.

Coggle

is an online tool for creating and sharing mindmaps and flow charts. It works online in your browser: there's nothing to download or install.

Coggle is mind-mapping software that is intuitive and slick. Formatting is relatively straight-forward, though it lacks a formatting bar, there’s a good help section. You can make comments on points in the map as well as open a discussion pane, so it is great for sharing and review. It downloads well into PDF and PNG files. The ‘presentation mode’ enables a zoomable full-screen version, which is handy when sharing your TOC with colleagues or running a workshop.

The downsides are that as it is not theory of change specific and it has a particular style with curvy lines. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but we liked it. The free version has some design limitations, but the paid-for version is also affordable.

Changeroo

is an online theory of change builder. It allows you collaborate when creating theories of change and present them in an engaging way.

We really rate Changeroo. It was designed in collaboration with the sector specifically to design theories of change[2]. It is very easy to use and looks the best out of the above. Functionality is great and you can zoom in and out, add narrative, assumptions, context, and indicators. There is lots of additional support too.

You can create one theory for free and you have full design functionality in this free version. Beware – access to the map expires after one month! After that, you have to pay. It is more expensive than Coggle and MindMup. The main downside is its limited export function, which the developers are trying to resolve. The print and email versions are simply too small to be useful.

[2] It doesn’t quite fit in out map above as it was designed in collaboration with the sector specifically to design theories of change (so fits better in evaluation-specific but is a yay).

What next?

Why not have a go? Have a play with one of the examples above. It won’t take you long and we have selected them because they are easy.

If you’re still getting to know theory of change, check out our free resources:

Good luck!

 

[1] Bearing in mind the type of charity we typically work with – all sorts of shapes and sizes but cash strapped and time poor – we decided these are the essential features of any useful software: free option available (or no cost at all); downloadable in range of formats and the downloads look good; can make online comments and changes; can set privacy and security levels; similar functionality with Microsoft Office tools (assuming most people are familiar with Microsoft); attractive map from a design point of view.

Download now!

In this paper, NCVO share their favourite software for creating a theory of change (so you can get started on your map creation!)

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