Prior to founding ActKnowledge in 2000, Heléne Clark had conducted extensive applied research in housing and community development. Heléne served as associate director of the Center for Human Environments at the CUNY Graduate Center for many years, supervising studies of limited-equity, tenant-run coops. In the course of helping a community development group in Brooklyn sometime in the 1980s, Heléne devised a simple outcomes mapping technique to help the group base its plans on a clear idea what it wanted to achieve. We like to think that Theory of Change emerged in her head at that time even as others were beginning to develop the idea of theory-driven evaluation in the context of comprehensive community initiatives.
After stepping down as associate director, Heléne and a colleague founded ActKnowledge to bring systematic research and analytic rigor to problems of action planning and organizational learning in the non-profit sector. They formed ActKnowledge as a business, rather than a non-profit, for overall flexibility and to align with the emerging field of social enterprise. As such, revenues are used only for operating costs and development of the field.