Does thinking backwards from the impact lead us to the organisation’s activities? What and who else is involved? Are the activities an effective way to get there?
Backwards-mapping is less a part of the impact plan than a technique to apply to it, and use as a means to build, develop and review the components within the plan. Typically the impact chain is set out as moving forwards through time:
Backwards-mapping starts instead with the high-level impact and long-term aims, and moves backwards in time through the plan, asking at each stage, “What is needed before this? To arrive at this step, what would have to happen first? Given the change described here, what would the causes and contributing factors be?”
The process of working forward through an impact plan can lend itself to tunnel-thinking. Backwards-mapping works as an exercise to open up awareness to things that may be missing. It can shed light on questions relating to other factors and the assumptions implicit within the impact chain. It also checks the chain’s direct links, asking from the point of view of outputs, what services or products these relate to, and from the point of view of activities, what inputs and operations are required.
The key questions for backwards-mapping are:
- does thinking backwards from the impact lead us to the organisation’s activities?
- what and who else is involved?
- are the activities an effective way to get there?
Tackling these questions helps verify the essential logic of the plan, as well as drawing out potentially unseen factors, and the risks and opportunities for engagement they present.
When considering change in a beneficiary’s life, it can be useful to think of the beneficiary in an expanding network of relationships that may be required for, or be a part of, this change. The expansion runs from the individual beneficiary, to family and close relationships, to the interventions and activities of service-providers and other organisations, to the local community, to larger societal conditions and the policy environment. These can be used to draw up a table of questions for performing backwards-mapping.
|beneficiary||family and close relationships||service-providers and social purpose organisations||local community||societal conditions and policy environment|
|to arrive at the impact, what is involved in relation to:|
|to achieve the outcomes, what is needed in relation to:|
|to deliver the outputs, what is needed in relation to:|
|to have access to and participate in the activities, what is needed in relation to:|
|given the problem, the context and the mission, what impact is needed in relation to:|
The aim is not to complete every cell in the table with a different set of conditions, but rather to use the questions each cell implies to see if there is something important that the impact plan has not addressed.