Theory of Change

If I expect miracles, then they will happen.

In 2011, I completed George Mason University / S-CAR’s Graduate Certificate Program in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  What interested me in particular about S-CAR was Dr. Sara Cobb’s work in Narrative Mediation, which uses language and story to transform conflicted relationships into collaborative ones.  As an artist who works with narrative, I felt an immediate connection.  Arriving at S-CAR felt like the beginning of a new journey towards a deeper, more service-oriented way of making art.

In the second semester of the program, I took a course in program monitoring and evaluation, one of the core components of the S-CAR certificate program curriculum, taught by Dr. Susan Allen Nan.  The centerpiece of this course was the Theory of Change concept/tool, which is a simple, powerful ‘if/then’ statement of how and why you think the efforts you’re making toward change will work. Most conflict resolution and peacebuilding programs operate with at least an implicit theory of change.  Accountability is achieved when a program is intentionally implemented according to and measured against an explicit theory of change.

As an artist, I understand and am drawn to ‘theory of change’ because it feels related to ‘the creative process’.  Telling a story, composing a piece of music, staging a scene, choosing costume elements – throughout the ‘creative process’, I make a series of detailed choices based on an implicit theory of how each one (and then the aggregate of all) will affect my audience.  Workshops and feedback from peers along the way help me fine-tune my choices if they miss the mark.  The creative process is experimental, incremental and constantly weaving between implicit hunches, explicit choices and the feedback of consequences.  As I practice making my theories of creative change explicit – how and why will this song/scene/costume impact the audience in the (low-stakes) context of this work? – I gain the skills to make my theories of social change explicit – how and why can this song/scene/costume move an audience from passive observation to action in the (high stakes) context of life?

In the S-CAR program, I had the opportunity to investigate how the performing arts can be an effective conflict transformation practice and how the conflict field can go deeper into the practice of the creative process as means of transforming conflict into collaboration.  Knowing how many of my peers are interested in social change art and art that has a purpose beyond entertaining, I see an opportunity to share what I have learned to help my community connect the dots between wanting to make social change through art, and actually making social change through art.  My work in both art and conflict transformation presently focuses on how the creative process can nurture individuals’ and groups’ present potential while helping them re-imagine a preferred, shared future.  Step one, I believe, is learning how to make a theory of change explicit, and following through on testing the viability of that theory.  I offer workshops and private coachings for artists and organizations who want to develop this practice.  Please feel free to contact me for more information.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s