Making a change

One of the current projects that we’re involved with at the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) is called ‘Herefordshire Dementia Voices’. The project is being led by Dementia Matters Here and aims to help identify what people affected by dementia need and want in terms of support in the county, both in the light of the pandemic and moving forward. Multiple activities are – and will be – taking place to find and hear the voices of people affected by dementia, including interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, Dementia Friends Sessions, events, blogs, newsletters and support to establish dementia friendly communities and support groups.

At ADS, our role is to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the project to explore to what extent the voices of people affected by dementia have been identified and heard. As part of that evaluation, we’re using a ‘Theory of Change’ approach. This is a new approach for us, so it’s been a bit of a learning process (like getting to grips with soft systems for the Get Real project!), but this week we had our first workshop with members of the Herefordshire Dementia Voices Steering Group to start looking at how Theory of Change can be applied to their project. We’re not going to try and explain it in any detail here, but ultimately we wanted to explore not just what is happening in the project and changing as a result, but also how and why things are happening and changing. It encourages us to consider how change happens in both the short-term and the long-term, and the myriad of factors that affect change for projects such as this (complex social interventions). It’s an iterative and recursive process that involves mapping the various elements of the project in a visual format, getting input from relevant stakeholders to make sure that we’re capturing everything, and refining our view of the project through their real-life experiences. This was just the first of three planned workshops to help form our initial project map, with further workshops taking place later in the project as it progresses.

To help ensure everyone was on the same page during the workshop, the key terms used in the project map were explained.

Table explaining the terms: inputs, activities, short-term and long-term outcomes, assumptions and indicators.

A simple example Theory of Change map was also presented to help us understand what we were aiming for (the map was adapted from the example presented here). Working backwards from the long-term outcome of friends being happy after dinner, it enabled us to explore some of the preceding activities, assumptions and interim short-term outcomes that made it possible to reach that point.

Example Theory of Change map showing the steps for hosting a dinner party

We can’t share the current map for the Herefordshire Dementia Voices project as it’s still a work in progress, but essentially there are six key anticipated outcomes from the project so our map is already slightly bigger than the above example! The main part of the workshop considered each of the first three outcomes in turn, and start to add information about the project’s progress and various activities to see how changes were happening. As the workshop was online we were a bit limited in terms of being able to be interactive with the group (no sticky notes, flip charts or marker pens this time!), but there were still some good discussions.

Our challenge now is to unpick all of the discussions and update our original project map accordingly. The map is essentially a live document, so we’ll build on it over time and use it as the basis for our future workshops – which will hopefully be ‘in person’ – but we’re one step closer to understanding ‘the story of the changes’ taking place as a result of the project.

Thanks go to the project Steering Group for getting involved and sharing their views with us. You can keep up to date with the project through the Dementia Matters Here website and social media (Twitter @DementiaHere and Facebook @dementiamattershere).

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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