February 15, 2016

How to make Theory of Change diagrams with Theorymaker

Basic use

Each line in the text box is one variable in the graph. A variable is any factor in your theory of change - something which could be different. Something you can control, or something you want to happen, or anything in between.

A variable
Another variable!

That isn’t much fun. We want to draw edges between the variables, usually with arrows to show which change contributes to what.

Arrows can be specified in four different ways for convenience. Just paste any of these examples into the text box to try them out and adjust them.

Using spaces to create edges (arrows) between variables.

You can just use spaces before the variables, like this:

 child a
  grandchild a
  grandchild b
 child b
  grandchild c
  grandchild d

Spaces are good for when you think about the effects of something.

Supermarkets charge for plastic bags
 Far fewer plastic bags purchased
  Much less plastic waste
 Somewhat more hemp bags purchased
  Somewhat more hemp waste
  Shoppers more conscious of waste

Using dots to create edges (arrows) between variables.

Or you can use dots, which reverses the order.

.result a
..subresult a
..subresult b
.result b
..subresult c
..subresult d

This way you can build up nice tidy hierarchies, but you can also have ragged ones too:

.result a
..subresult a
...sub-sub result x
...sub-sub result y
..subresult b
.result b
..subresult c

Don’t let your planning tools force you to be regimented if you don’t want to be!

Advanced tips and tricks

The last diagram was pretty nice but we’d like to point out that one of these effects is small and negative, another is large and positive.

Supermarkets charge for plastic bags
 Far fewer plastic bags purchased; edgecolor=black
 Somewhat more hemp bags purchased;  edgecolor=red

I can even add labels to the edges and make them different widths.

Finally, this diagram needs a different shape. On the web interface, I can just drag the proportion slider to the left to make it shallower. Or I can do the same thing by writing proportion, putting a small number for shallow and wide:

Supermarkets charge for plastic bags
 Far fewer plastic bags purchased; edgewidth=4; edgecolor=black
 Somewhat more hemp bags purchased; edgewidth=1; edgecolor=red; edgelabel=negative


Oh, and if you are lazy you can abbreviate all these things:

Supermarkets charge for plastic bags
 Far fewer plastic bags purchased; ewid=4; ecol=black
 Somewhat more hemp bags purchased; ewid=1; ecol=red; elab=negative


So we looked at how to ose dots and spaces and how to change the appearance by adding things like edgewidth=3.

Sometimes it is convenient to combine spaces and dots.

.result a
 goal 2
.result b

Sometimes we want to draw diagrams with loops in them. Theorymaker doesn’t stop you.

Parent gets angry
 Child gets upset
  Parent gets angry

If you find yourself repeating variables a lot and you don’t want to copy and paste, you can use an alias by putting some easy shorter form in front of the full name, separated by a double colon.

 Child gets upset
  Pa::Parent gets angry

You have to define the alias on the last appearance, othewise this will happen:

Pa::Parent gets angry
 Child gets upset

Those two techniques are nice and easy but for more complicated cases you can use to=. You can specify more than one target, separated by spaces.

a;to=b d

A space is used to separate targets. So what to do if the target of the to” has spaces in its name? Just remove the spaces.

b with gaps in name
a;to=bwithgapsinname d

Finally, you can use a decimal point notation which is very common in project designs.


If you are using the decimal point notation and want to have meaningful labels, you have to use aliases.

x     :: Goal
x.a   :: Result a
x.a.1 :: Result a.1
x.b   :: Result b
x.c   :: Result c

Note that I put some spaces in before and after the colons to make it easier to read. You can leave them out if you want.

Combinations of these specifications can also be used.


One of the neat things about Theorymaker is that it is easy to add edges, arrows, between variables.

If you are specifying more than one target with to=, and you decorate the edges, look what happens:

a;to=b c;edgelabel= my label

If you don’t want this effect, you can use additional lines:

a;to=b;edgelabel= my label
a;to=c;edgelabel= my other label

You can also control the arrowheads.

 b; edgedirection=both
  c; edgedirection=none


Grouping boxes are specified using an initial -. If you want boxes inside boxes, use more dashes.


Teacher;to=Motivation Learning


Empty boxes are possible too.

-box one
--inner box


There is also a handy way to add notes (with matching colours) to your items. So if you use ;note_two=some note in a variable, a note some note” labelled two” will appear at the bottom of the item. If you do this in multiple variables, the fill colours match.

-Project school

-Comparison school
Dummy intervention;to=cb

Valued variables & input variables

One more feature: you can mark variables which are valued or which are inputs quite simply:

.result a
..subresult a
...other contribution a
..subresult b
...input b;input=yes
.result b_val
..subresult c
...input c;input=yes
..subresult d
...input d1;input=yes
...input d2;input=yes

There are also shortcodes for some features which you can add at the end of your variable names or aliases:

  • adding _val means this is a valued variable
  • adding _inp means this is an input variable
  • adding _def means this is a defined variable
  • adding _sce means this box is a scenario
  • adding _mul means this box contains multiple cases
  • adding _dot makes a dotted line

--Group 1_sce
--Group 2_mul


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