Theory Of Change

Theory of Change

What is a Theory of Change?

What is a Theory of Change?

A theory of change provides a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a given context. A theory of change focuses on mapping out or “filling in” missing pieces between what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved.

The Ohio SPF-PFS Initiative uses strategic planning to fill in the missing pieces between the goals of cooperative agreement under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) and the desired population-level outcomes. These outcomes include reducing underage drinking among persons aged 14-20 and reducing prescription drug misuse and abuse among persons aged 15-25.

The state-level theory of change specifies the team members, strategies, actions, and conditions needed to achieve the SPF-PFS goals of addressing these substance use issues, implementing the SPF, and creating sustainable change.

In turn, each local community also develops their own, community-level theory of change to address these long-term outcomes at the local level.

For a short video on the Theory of Change for the SPF-PFS Initiative in Ohio, click here or the image below:

Theory of Change

Why is a Theory of Change Important?

A theory of change is important because it serves as a guiding document for your project or initiative. The theory of change outlines the local, community, and overall goals of the project as well as listing the key players that will be working to accomplish these goals. It is important to create this kind of guiding document to ensure that key stakeholders in an initiative or project agree upon who is to be involved and what kind of strategies are acceptable to use to meet the project’s goals. Moreover, the theory of change starts to map out the local conditions or root problems at work behind the long-term goals of the project. This way, a theory of change starts a logical process of working in small steps to achieve big results.

What is the Theory of Change for the SPF-PFS Initiative in Ohio?

With a theory of change graphic, it is important to start at the bottom and move upward. Starting with the long-term outcomes, focuses on the end results. It answers the question: where do we want to go? The theory of change then provides a succinct, visual roadmap that shows all of the actions necessary to get there. In the case of the SPF-PFS Initiative in Ohio, the long-term goals are to reduce underage drinking among persons aged 14-20 and reduce prescription drug misuse and abuse among persons aged 15-25.

To Create Population Change: To Develop Conditions For: Using These Strategies: Will: Ohio's SPF-PFS Team: In Order To:

In Order To:

The In Order To section, sets forth the key results being sought. This section states what the initiative is undertaking, at the community and state level, to enact the population-level change being sought (described at the bottom of the page).

Ohio's SPF-PFS Team:

This section represents who in the theory of change. The groups listed include all of the players who will be taking the actions described. In the case of the Ohio SPF-PFS, the many members that provide wrap-around support are included.


The actions specify what it will take to accomplish the community, state, and population level goals of the project. This section describes the strategies as actionable statements.

Using These Strategies:

The strategies detail the kinds of problem-solving techniques that will be used to accomplish our goals.

To Develop Conditions For:

Here are the conditions that will contribute to the population-level change are listed. These represent the root causes, also called local conditions, necessary to change to achieve the final goals.

To Create Population Change:

At the end are the population-level goals that will be achieved as a result of this work.