Program Design Graphic

When designing a program, it is recommended that your design incorporate each of these components.The graphic below depicts the various components of program design.
Untitled Impact Group Long-term Goal Situational Analysis Theory of Change Program Strategy Impact measurement and learning

i. Impact Population Description

One of the discoveries that we have made is that most projects, and many past groups of activities labeled as programs, are very unclear as to which specific groups of people are intended to benefit as a result of the activities being carried out. We may talk loosely about ‘improving the sustainable livelihoods of the rural poor’, but are not clear as to who exactly are the different groups of people that may fall into this description whose lives we do want to see benefit, and what are the differences in their respective situations. For example, people who are landless, or who are bonded labourers, may have very different rights issues from female headed households, or people from minority or excluded ethnic or caste groups.

impact group for a program is therefore the specific population group or groups whose lives should show a measurable, enduring improvement through the effects of the program. This impact groups is different from the broader target group, with whom we work, and who may well also be expected to benefit from initiatives associated with the program. Examples of impact group definitions that come from Ethiopia are:

Impact Group #1: Chronically food insecure rural, sedentary women with lack or absence of productive assets.

Impact Group #2: Resource poor youth in urban and peri-urban areas, whose critical human rights are denied, and are vulnerable to HIV & AIDS.
Impact Group #3: Pastoralist girls denied of their rights.

For guidance on impact groups, here are examples from CARE Ethiopia, Laos and Nepal.
Impact Group Meeting (September 8, 2008)
Impact Group Task Force Minutes (December 5, 2008)
Impact Group Challenges Diagram (February 16, 2009)
Impact Groups- Program Focus Matrix

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ii. Long-Term Impact Goal

This is a 10-15 year ambition, and specifies the kind of enduring impact we would like to see being achieved in the lives of the impact population group, at broad scale. There are two ways an impact goal might be phrased. The first is in terms of the underlying causes or major barriers which the program seeks to address, such as the overcoming of gender based violence, or chronic rural food insecurity. Alternatively, an impact goal might be framed in terms of the desired change, such as women’s improved access to and control over assets, and their greater equality in various forms of decision forums, as well as the reshaping of institutions so that women’s voice is represented equitably.

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iii. Situational Analysis

Since the adoption of the unifying framework, CARE has been working to develop better analyses of the underlying causes of poverty and of the power relations associated with them.
There are different types of analyses that can be incorporated within an overall situational analysis:
² Context analysis
² Analysis of the underlying causes of poverty (UCP) and social injustice
² Analysis of the challenges and barriers to achieving the MDGs
² Gender analysis
² Power
These different forms of analysis can and should be interrelated; for instance, an UCP analysis should speak to an MDG . Analyses should also occur at multiple levels, and with multiple stakeholder

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iv.Theory of Change

The theory of change is the heart of the program strategy. It is important to understand the difference between a theory of change and a project log-frame. Project log-frames suggest that social change is a predictable, linear process, rather than the messy, complex affair we know it to be. In this complex affair, we have to be adaptive, iterative, and non-linear. It is necessary to try different strategies and understand better what works and what doesn't in each context.

So, we can define a
theory of change as: A set of hypotheses and critical assumptions that make up causal pathways of change.
You will note that the definition talks about multiple ‘pathways of change’. This is because a change strategy will need to contain several tracks, likely to be operating in parallel but also to interact with one another. For example, a strategy to deal with gender violence may have a community based component, used to develop local models; a component designed to develop women’s solidarity groups, built from the bottom up; and a networking and advocacy component, developed in conjunction with women’s social movements. Steps forwards or backwards in any one of these dimensions will influence the others.

Accelerate girls’ income growth
Provide information, knowledge, skill and promote social safety net to adolescent girls, boys, mothers and school community
Support service providers to offer girl-friendly services and behavior
Promote girls’ education
Adolescent girls economically empowered and hence improved SRH status
· Organize girls into GSL groups
· Support girls’ access to financial services
· Business skill training
· Financial literacy
· Support girls to engage in IGAs
· Facilitate access to market

Measure of success:
· % of girls whose income increased
· % of girls engaged in new income generating activities
· # of girls who report they have control over their income
· IEC on SRH and human rights
· Community conversation on key SRH challenges and social determinants
· Ensure mentoring of girls by mother-to-mother groups and school clubs
· Promote social support groups among girls
· Awareness-raising to school community
· Recruit and train change agents – boys, girls, traditional leaders, mothers
· Life-skills trainings

Measure of success:
· % of girls who have access to information
· % of girls who have access to skill trainings
· % of girls with better social network
· Support financial institutions to develop and provide girl-tailored products and services
· Support SRH service providers to alleviate staff bias toward girls and to make their services girl-friendly
· Establish girl-SRH service providers joint forum
· Introduce client-oriented provider efficiency (COPE) for SRH service providers
· Introduce Community Score Card (CSC) in the process of financial service provision

Measure of success:
· % of girls who are accessing quality and girl-friendly SRH and financial service
· # and type of service providers with capacity to provide girl- friendly service
· # of service providers with reduced bias towards girls
· Working on all three dimensions of empowerment: agency; relation; and structure
· Leveraging from CARE Ethiopia’s similar economic empowerment and SRH projects, initiatives and experiences
· Scale-up and ensure sustainability through partnership modality that ensures capacity building in the implementation of the project

Measure of success:
· % of girls demonstrating increased livelihood assets (financial, human and social)
· % of girls who have control over their assets
· Change in SRH knowledge, awareness and practices among girls
· Integrate girls’ education and rights in mothers-to-mothers groups
· Work with school administration and teachers to create girl-friendly school environment
· Establish mentoring program between school girls and out-of-school girls
· Ensure the support of teachers for girls who are engaged in economic activities
· Integrate girls’ education in the community conversations

Measure of success:
· % decrease in girl drop-out rate
· % of school re-admission by girls
· % of increase in new enrollment among girls


When we first start to look at a program strategy, one of the obvious realizations will be that there are many different kinds of activities that could be implemented in pursuit of the program goal. The theory of change helps us select the most critical or strategic from among these possible activities. At times, small inputs in a social system can result in surprisingly big outcomes, whilst big, expensive interventions often yield small, dismal outcomes.
A common question about the theory of change is, ‘How do we know that it is, at least initially, adequate?’ A theory of change is adequate when it: provides a logical and coherent explanation of how the major underlying causes of poverty or barriers to change are to be addressed; and specifies the major required areas of change, paying special attention to the structural dimension.

Within a theory of change, we call these major areas of change
domains of change. Thus in the earlier example about a strategy to address gender violence, the community component, the solidarity group model, and the broader advocacy work with social network allies are all potential domains of change. Within each domain, the program should aim to influence behaviours, relationships and systems.

Finally, within each domain of change, we can also identify breakthrough areas. A
breakthrough is a change that represents a leap forward or an advance on the pathway of change that is not easily reversed. For instance, again within the gender violence example, a breakthrough area that has been identified in Bangladesh is stopping the practice of dowry. Although illegal, this practice, which institutionalizes the inequality of women to men, remains widely followed. Thus the stopping of dowry, it is hypothesized, will start to reverse the practices which lead to women being seen as inferior and which appear to justify their systematic mistreatment. In its greatest magnitude, a breakthrough is therefore a structural or systemic change. But on a smaller scale, it can manifest as a precedent or something that happens for the first time. Seeking breakthroughs is a major element of the program strategy and helps identify the activities that will leverage the greatest outcomes.

More guidance on best practices related to these different types of analyses will be developed in the near future and uploaded here.

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v. Program Strategy

The more detailed program strategy fleshes out the nature of the envisaged change pathways. Constructing the change pathways is like building a road map: we have an idea of the destination, but will have to experiment to find an effective route or routes of getting there. The change strategy helps us answer the question: what is the change we are working for and what needs to happen for the change to come about?

We express our ideas about this change in terms of hypotheses in the theory of change. Hypotheses are if-then statements. They can be within a given pathway, between its steps or levels; they can also be across the different pathways of a given domain of change.

The strategy is our detailed planning and reflection tool, helping us articulate how and why we expect the desired changes to come about. Because we are hypothesizing how the change will happen and constantly testing our theory, we must constantly review and adjust the strategy, including for the pace of change.

To illustrate this, let’s use the earlier example of a women’s empowerment strategy that seeks to address gender violence through three main components: a community based component, used to develop local models;, a component designed to develop women’s solidarity groups, built from the bottom up; and a networking and advocacy component, developed in conjunction with women’s social movements. In Bangladesh, they have hypothesized that addressing dowry practices is a critical aspect of reducing gender violence, and that this process requires a national advocacy strategy. Hypothesizing this means that they have to test whether changing cultural attitudes towards dowry practices leads to a reduction of gender violence. Further, if it is difficult to change these attitudes in the short term, they will also have to seek additional change pathways to addressing gender violence which may have a longer-term impact on dowry practices.

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vi. Learning and Impact Strategy

Our existing monitoring and evaluation systems focus on the activities that projects carry out. By contrast, a program requires a system to monitor the social change that is taking place and the validity of our assumptions about it.

Using the Bangladesh example again, we might find that dowry practices are indeed declining as a result of a set of advocacy and social movement activities at national level, but also that gender violence is increasing instead of decreasing. Why? Is this the reaction of men threatened by their loss of status and power? Is this trend likely to continue or reverse after a while? What might be a strategy to ensure that it reverses? These are the kinds of questions that a program’s reflective learning and impact assessment system needs to ask and answer.

In other words, an impact assessment and reflective learning system needs to:

  • Test – and adapt – our theory of change
  • Measure progress towards achieving impact – what is the nature of the economic, social and political change that is taking place?
To perform these tasks, our system needs to have:
  • A core set of outcome and impact indicators, aligned with a global set of such indicators (MDIs +)
  • A set of qualitative and quantitative methods for collecting data on these indicators and analyzing them
  • An annual reflection and learning process

Note that impact here is defined as "long-term and sustainable social change that happens at systemic and structural levels and addresses underlying causes of poverty for a specific group of people." Impact measurement systems will provide summary information on contributions that CARE, working with others, are making toward eradicating poverty and achieving social justice across the globe. Better impact measurement will allow us to demonstrate as rapidly as possible what kinds of improved effectiveness can be achieved through shifting to a program approach, and hence its contribution to the value and relevance of CARE as an organization. A process has been established to assist in the development of global impact indicators.

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