Field Notes

The Five Core Components of a Transformation Journey

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Written by 
Coeuraj Insight
March 2023

When we talk about notions of change and transformation, it often seems like a tall order. But transformation can happen anywhere and at any scale, whether it be fundamental shifts to a system or moving forward with impactful priorities within an organization.

At Coeuraj, whenever we approach a new challenge with our clients, we design a roadmap of activities that can enable high levels of collaboration and innovation unique to the opportunity at hand. We refer to these custom roadmaps as “transformation journeys.” 

Through design and the right structure, transformation journeys can support people through the promise and discomfort of change, hold problems in frame, and drive towards the necessary outcomes and solutions.

We asked members of our Transformation Design team to zoom out and unpack the key components of our transformation journeys and our approach to each.

1. Establishing a Design Team

Work with our clients begins with the formation of a Design Team, comprised of individuals that use their insight and experience to design the overall transformation journey with Coeuraj.

At Coeuraj, we believe that the people who are closest to a problem hold the solution to that problem within themselves. Our job is therefore to create the conditions for people’s wisdom to surface. The first way that we apply this principle to our work is through the formation of a client Design Team. This group of four to seven individuals within the client system becomes our partner and guide throughout our work together, helping to ensure that what we do is relevant, advances our clients’ goals, and is appropriately contextualized to that system’s circumstances.

We want our work to meet all the diverse needs within any given system and this means that our Design Teams need to represent this diversity as well. Ideally, a Design Team is comprised of a mix of identities, including representation across race, gender, age, ability, and reflects diversity within the organization when it comes to things like tenure, level of seniority, and department.

Once established, we work with this group to create a shared understanding of what “good” looks like, how we want to work together, how the work will unfold, and what principles need to underpin our process. From there, we meet routinely to talk though elements of the project design, surface and address potential challenges, and decide how we want to respond to changes in the client’s context and needs. As our work unfolds, Design Team members also help to champion our work throughout the system, and to bring back signals of change for us to explore and grapple with. 

Ultimately, Design Teams help establish agency, build capacity, and inspire collective buy-in from the people who will continue this work once the journey comes to a close, making this team an integral part to sustaining effective transformation. 

-Julia Monaghan, Head of Transformation Design

2. Developing a Theory of Change

With a Design Team in place, the first step is to understand and establish the intended outcomes and desired change that the transformation journey will work towards.

Our transformation journeys are designed and delivered to enable change at different levels within a system—for individuals, groups, and organizations as well as at a macro, systemic-level.

A theory of change is one methodology Coeuraj uses with clients to create a baseline definition for the change we’re trying to make and how we’ll enable it through our transformation journey. A theory of change describes our initial thinking about how change could “ripple” through a system.

This process typically begins with the end in mind, or in other words, the long-term goals that our client is seeking to contribute to, along with other actors in a particular field. From here we identify the outcomes that we expect to see at the very end of this journey and the actions we’ll take to get there. The final, and typically most challenging, step is defining the missing middle: the intermediate outcomes, within our influence, that are the bridges between our activities to the end-of-journey outcomes.

Creating a theory of change enables the creation of a measurement framework that defines outcome indicators, data sources, data collection methods and a reporting framework. It also contributes to a shared understanding of a journey for all parties involved.

Implicit in the word “theory” is the idea that a theory of change is “never final and never right.” It needs to be regularly re-visited and revised as we go through cycles of measurement, evaluation and learning across subsequent stages of a transformation journey. The investment in creating this baseline enables project teams to not only demonstrate the impact that a transformation journey is having, but also to adapt the design and delivery of the journey as we learn.

-John Hibble, Head of Impact Evaluation & Transformation Lead

3. Deepening Knowledge of a System

With a theory of change in hand, it's important to understand the system in focus to identify where their problems lie, and potential solutions might be found.

At Coeuraj, we often work to create positive change in complex and “messy” systems, where there are many diverse and conflicting perspectives and interests at stake. In these scenarios, understanding the true nature of the problem can be as challenging as finding the solution.

As part of our transformation journeys, we include a phase of systems research to explore and define the problem space. This research ensures that our design processes are directed towards solving the “right problem” in context of the theory of change.

Systems research uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods to identify the gap between the system’s desired outcomes and its current behavior. Our focus is on understanding the behaviour of the system in terms of the relationships between key stakeholders, their processes, and the context they operate in. The activities involved can vary, but typically include:

  • Mapping key stakeholders to understand where power and influence show up in a system.
  • Facilitating interviews and focus groups to gather perspectives from each stakeholder group. 
  • Exploring case studies to contextualize the system in focus; and
  • Conducting participatory systems mapping exercises to visually draw out the tangible and intangible aspects present in a system and the relationships that hold these aspects together.

Systems research is an important part of a transformation journey because it surfaces assumptions that often go unseen or unquestioned and creates an opportunity for those closest to a problem to better understand why things are the way they are.

-Adam Shaw, Research Lead and Kian Ferriolo, Research Analyst

4. Setting a Calibration Point

As the transformation journey unfolds, reflecting on the progress thus far ensures that the right work is being done in the right way.

A calibration point is a time where the Design Team can adjust and tune our project approach to the factors affecting the journey. During a calibration point the core project team assess the progress to date in context of the theory of change, allowing us to make key decisions on what adjustment and changes are required to ensure continued success on the transformation journey.

Calibration points follow a line of inquiry across three key questions:

  • What? What are the outcomes and impacts we are seeing from our work and efforts to date?
  • So what? What does this mean for progressing our desired objectives for this work?
  • Now what? What improvements do we need to make to increase our effectiveness, what stays the same?

Another key element of a calibration point is evaluating what’s worked well internally and externally on the journey to date. Reflecting on where the joint project team is meeting each other’s expectations and where we can improve is an important part of checking in with each other. 

Finally, the spirit in which the project team participates in a calibration point is just as important as the data inputs on which we measure our impact. The most successful calibration points are ones where both Coeuraj and our clients are able to approach the conversation with a spirit of curiosity and openness to change. At the end of every calibration point all participants should have a clear understanding of what’s working, what needs adjustment, and where we’re headed next.

-Heather Lejeune, Design Lead

5. Facilitating Post-Journey Reflections

As a transformation journey comes to a close, it’s important to recognize and understand the different scales of impact that has taken place. It’s also important to consider that while some outcomes will be immediate, larger-term impact may not be measurable in the moment.

To understand the immediate impacts from a transformation journey, a client retrospective is held to bring together all members of the Design Team to reflect on the journey and operationalize the solutions and strategies that were created throughout it.

Client retrospectives are typically two hours of participatory discussion where Design Team members can make sense of the transformation journey. In many ways, a client retrospective will pick up on the key themes addressed in a calibration point; they allow clients to define from their lens the outcomes and impact that this work has enabled, the ways of working, and the insights gathered through the challenges faced. Most importantly, they also open discussion for the project team to ideate on how to translate end-of-journey outcomes into next steps and actions.

Retrospectives also provide an opportunity to celebrate the work that’s been done and honour the relationships that have grown since starting the journey. They are often a time to validate, affirm, and imagine future possibilities of collaboration for project teams to find more ways to create greater impact in the system.

In addition to an immediate client retrospective, it’s important for us to track the outcomes of our work with clients over time. A longer-term follow-up, typically 6-12 months after an initial transformation journey, creates space for reflection and mutual learning for journey participants and Coeuraj. In these interviews, we seek to understand what the most significant changes were that have played out since the completion of the journey, and why these were significant.

-Dani Prapavessis, Design Lead & John Hibble, Head of Impact Evaluation & Transformation Lead

Looking to take the first step towards your own transformation journey? Send us a note at

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