The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

By Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Victoria Chang
2006 | Case No. SI63 | Length 17 pgs.

Late Palo Alto industrialist William R. Hewlett, his wife, Flora Lamson Hewlett and their eldest son, Walter B. Hewlett, established the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (“Hewlett Foundation”) in 1966. The foundation’s guiding principle, as stated by the board of directors, was to “promote the well-being of humanity by focusing on the most serious problems facing society, where risk capital, responsibly invested, may make a difference over time, and on sustaining and improving institutions that make positive contributions to society.” Under its president’s (Paul Brest) direction, the foundation advocated that mission-based organizations, including foundations themselves, articulate the causal theories that govern how both grantee and foundation resources can be deployed to achieve shared objectives. The Hewlett Foundation proposed (and implemented the idea) that foundations and grantees use a theory of change—also known as a causal theory or logic mode—to structure their strategic planning and evaluation efforts. In its simplest form, a causal theory takes the following form—inputs, which lead to activities and outputs, which in turn lead to outcomes. The process of designing a causal theory begins with a sound hypothesis and desired outcomes and the subsequent determination of what inputs and activities are needed to produce the outcomes. The Hewlett Foundation employed a theory of change model to develop its internal programs, such as the environment program’s off-road vehicle use initiative. The theory of change model informed every aspect of the foundation’s work, from grantmaking strategies to grantee selection and program performance evaluations. As the foundation shifted to a theory of change approach during 2001 and 2002, Brest and the program staff endeavored to increase the foundation’s effectiveness and accountability by formalizing its planning and assessment practices.

Learning Objective

The theory of change model (also known as a causal theory or logic model), foundation strategic planning, evaluation and policy change.

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