Actor-Based Change Frameworks

Actor-Based Change Frameworks

Guidance and resources on a participatory systems-mapping approach.

What are they?

The Actor-Based Change Framework (ABC) is a participatory approach that was initially developed by Andrew Koleros (Drew) and published in 2018.[1] It is an invaluable aid to developing a meaningful, evidence- and PEA-informed Useful Theory of Change (what is this?).[2] While the initial paper reflects on a fairly nascent and academic model of it, I have been developing the idea into something broader and more accessible. Drew has recognised my Evaluation Team (ET) as being the foremost ABC practioners in the world, and in my role as Head of Evaluation, Drew and I are working on a practioner’s guide to ABC. As soon as this is ready the references in this will be updated.

ABC weaves together systems-thinking, complexity science, and behaviour change theory to help you map out the informal systems that give rise to the problem that your programme is aiming to address. While often a Cold Hose over programme plans, ABC ensures that you have actively understood the terrain within which your programme will operate and therefore accurately plot your hypothesis for change. It then becomes a powerful monitoring and evaluation tool that aids swift programme adaptation by holding a symbiotic relationship with your theory of change.


[1] Koleros, A., The Actor-Based Change Framework: A Pragmatic Approach to Developing Programme Theory for Interventions in Complex Systems, American Journal of Evaluation, 2018

[2] Mayne, J., Useful Theories of Change, Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 2015

How do I do it?

ABC is a powerful tool, but not a silver bullet. Nevertheless I have found it invaluable to my work, and my programme teams have as well.

ABC is all about behaviour and influence, not about formal hierarchies or existing formalised structures. It capitalises on contextual knowledge to construct informal systems that exist around – and give rise to – problems. It then supports you to solve part of that problem with the resources you have to hand.

ABC is best understood through a workshop so do reach out if you want me to point you towards a trainer or a facilitator, but in lieu of that, please find guidance and support below. Please make sure you’ve read my guidance on Theories of Change first.

Until the manual comes out, please read the paper and use the ‘intro to ABC’ slides that I have developed. These break ABC down into 6 steps that make it feel more manageable. Then, once it feels coherent, below you will find templates for some pre-work exercises that I often use in trainings as well as the kinds of skeletons and checklists that I use as a trainer. However, I will emphasise that you do need an experienced facilitator for this, and for groups larger than 8 you will need two.

Some of my tools and templates are below. As always please keep my watermark where it exists and credit me if possible – IP is important in this day and age.

Intro to ABC: slides with presenter’s notes.

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