NCWIT Theory of Change


NCWIT’s theory of change (pictured below) explains why we have decided to tackle the problem of low gender diversity in tech in the manner we have. It also serves to describe how we think our approach will result in the ultimate outcome we hope to achieve. By making explicit the assumptions underlying NCWIT’s approach, our theory of change helps explain how short-term and medium-term outputs and outcomes move us toward our ultimate goal of increased meaningful participation of people marginalized by genders and race/ethnicities in technology and the increased innovation that will result from this.

Description of Theory of Change Graphic

By using our three-pronged strategy (convene, equip and unite), we aim to improve awareness and knowledge, and help individuals transfer that information into motivation to take action. Thus, our three-pronged strategy works to ensure the necessary “pre-states” in our “change agents.” These change agents are individuals who take action on behalf of the cause. We theorize that it is only once these pre-states are achieved that change can take place. While our primary focus is on organizational change, we understand that individuals instigate organizational changes. We also understand that smaller-scale personal actions can contribute to systemic change as well.

Our model is depicted in discrete, but interlocking, segments, reading from left to right (Figure 1): 

  • NCWIT is based on social science research, our own and that of other scholars 
  • Our strategies are to Unite–by raising awareness and doing outreach, Equip–through creating and distributing resources, and Convene–to build capacity. 
  • This three-pronged strategy helps to precipitate in our stakeholders the necessary “pre-states” that must exist for stakeholders to take action.
  • The actions taken by individuals and organizations occur once they are educated, aware, and motivated. Sometimes these actions lead to greater awareness, knowledge and motivation (thus the interlocking zipper).
  • Altogether, the individual and organizational changes ultimately lead us to mission impact. 
  • With a significant number of organizations and individuals in action, change can be sustained even after NCWIT has closed its doors.

While the figure below is presented in a somewhat linear fashion, the interactions between phases are iterative and nonlinear, as all human behavior and social change movements are. 

Figure 1. NCWIT Theory of Change

A graphic outlining NCWIT's theory of change

Summary of NCWIT Theory of Change

NCWIT focuses on trying to change the entire system in which we all study and work using research- and evidence-based approaches. We recognize that individuals must be the ones to instigate this large-scale cultural change. Thus, NCWIT convenings, resources, and outreach are intended to educate individual organizational representatives who care about NCWIT’s mission, to unify them in understanding, and prepare them for action. When individuals share NCWIT resources with someone else or talk to someone else about what they learned from NCWIT resources or research, they raise awareness and knowledge in others and often create constituency to instigate organizational changes. The types of organizational change we encourage and facilitate include changes in culture (norms, values, interactions) as well as changes to policies, practices, and programs to make environments more welcoming and rewarding for diverse peoples to participate in technology innovation.

According to our theory of change, the individual actions and organizational changes wrought under our influence will sustain themselves because they will be supported in individual member organizations by the necessary internal infrastructures. Ultimately, evidence of widespread organizational changes among our member organizations in policy, practices, infrastructure, and greater numbers of women and under-represented minorities in technical positions and in positions of leadership would show an authentic commitment to increasing the diversity of the computing field, and would reflect achievement of our mission.

We theorize that when enough influential K-12 groups, colleges and universities, and companies make organizational changes, the entire field can–and will–shift. Over time, the changes wrought in individual institutions will become embedded in the larger computing and information technology culture because these changes will be valued both for their intent to improve gender and racial equity in society and for their positive impact on technology innovation and business results. Thus, we anticipate that the changes we catalyze will be sustained long after NCWIT has closed its doors.

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