Using metaphors to explain complex evaluation concepts is not a new thing and many people in the field have been successfully using them. But I must say, of all the training tools that I have used so far in my evaluation career, none has been more popular than my “soup theory of change”, an exercise that I have developed to explain the concept of Theory of Change to people at various levels of the organizational chart, from front line program development officers to VP of larger organizations.
I developed the first draft of the workshop on the back of a napkin one day, when I was at a talk, and the speaker said something like: Formative evaluation is like asking “how did you make the soup?” and summative evolution is like asking “ how was the soup?” That metaphor was my inspiration and from there I designed a 2 hour interactive workshop that uses examples from “making a soup scenario” to explain the concept of theory of change and its associated jargon.
Being an evaluator, I have been curious about what specifically is it about this workshop that resonates with people of all backgrounds. These 3 things seem to be key:
1-Metaphors are useful because they increase our chances of remembering things that we hear in a workshop. So if you can find some good ones, use them!
2.Simple metaphors help people understand evaluation or research jargon. If you talk people through a simple example first, using a metaphor, and then point out the ‘technical jargon equivalents’ in your example, they are much more likely to understand what you are talking about.
3.Metaphors are great, but why not get people to actually help you create a metaphor from scratch? Adults learn by doing things, so even if it means you get people to come up with some desirable outcomes for their soup that will go a long way. For example they can say they want to make the soup saltier that last time, or they want to make it thicker, or they want to make it with more protein, etc. The point is, they are making change statements and in evaluation jargon, they are making “desired outcome” statements.
One of my workshop participants said:
“The soup example was a great exercise to help us understand the specific elements of a theory of change. The workshop made the theory of change accessible to those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to learn about it – and have only heard it being referenced in a rather complex and opaque way”
I think this quote really wraps it up!