Theory of Change Workshop in Stockholm: A two-way learning process for Vinnova and TIPC

Thinking & Analysis

The Swedish Innovation Agency and TIPC member, Vinnova, kicked off their in-country Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) project with a dedicated Theory of Change (ToC) workshop, in Stockholm, which was attended by members of Vinnova’s mission-oriented teams. They apply a mission-oriented innovation approach in which societal grand challenges can be addressed systemically, creating multiple types of value, such as social, environmental and economic. By getting involved with specific challenge-driven projects, and with a people and place-based approach, the team sets out to support transformative change within key contemporary systems – engaging with everyday food and mobility systems particular, but in the context of health and sustainability, on their path to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

The ToC methodology was applied to the mission-oriented initiative itself as well as to one of the missions: ensuring every student in Sweden eats healthy, sustainable, and tasty school food. As Jenny Sjöblom, programme manager of the mission team explains, ‘we want to create a sustainable system around school meals, from teaching about food, food production as well as food logistics, food waste and the food experience itself, to using the school kitchen’s resources more extensively and creating new conditions for the farmers to produce sustainable food.’

The school food project thus aims at delivering a new set of working methods and practices for implementing formative evaluation for transformative change. The ToC workshop, striving for a combination of capacity-building, deep learning and co-production, brought about much learning on both sides. The TIPC and Vinnova team began to get a much deeper understanding of the complexity of the task at hand: enabling transformation. Both teams agreed on the objectives of the collaboration, among these the articulation of more options for inducing change, and a better scientific understanding of why these options matter.

The initial two-day workshop design, an adaptation of a 6-step methodology by Hivos, was to result in a visual representation of the mission-oriented team’s Theory of Change and lead to the definition of a set of future formative evaluation activities to be conducted by Vinnova and the TIPC research team. In regular ToC exercises, theory does not play a big role, but in the TIPC approach it is a core component, as it is focused on identifying transformative outcomes for projects, programs  and innovation practices within Vinnova but also similar agents in other countries.

Applying this methodology to Vinnova’s mission-oriented approach, and the healthy, sustainable school food project in particular, opened up exciting opportunities for working with transformative outcomes, which will be further elaborated in the coming months.

Concluding, the workshop in Stockholm exemplified the need for all processes to remain agile and flexible, as exercises were often customised on the spot. Experimentation is a key part of the TIPC approach, meaning that it has the strength to embrace high uncertainty and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. TIPC’s Academic Director Johan Schot confirmed, “when entering this collaboration, we all knew that the process milestones are not set in stone, and that’s a perk of it. This is an experiment for everyone involved, for us as researchers just as much as for the partners. We want to facilitate second-order learning on both sides and gain the most of this exercise”

More news to follow, watch out for the results!