At least three times last week I found myself referencing the basic elements of a logic model (aka theory of change). Once, when a colleague and I were discussing what learning to assess among individual participants in community service programs. And then, when introducing our capable intern to the wild world of grant writing. What could our client do, how much could they do (or how many could they do it to), what difference would that make in individual lives, and how would that affect the community. And yet again, in a memo to another client commenting on work we’d done together last fall on visioning and strategy in the form of an impact map. An impact map is simplified version of the ol’ logic model that I observed last year in an Institute for Conservation Leadership workshop led by Meredith Emmett.
Here are some of the many ways I use, and yes I suppose love, logic models:
- For cooking up, communicating, and strengthening program design. There is nothing like a Sharpie and a big sticky note for sketching out what we we think before we write it up — a logic model (or the simplified “impact map’) is super-useful for a concept check.
- For improving the competitiveness of funding proposals. USDA is one federal agency, and there are probably others, that asks applicants to create and attach logic models in certain bid submissions.
- For planning and guiding program evaluation. Sketching out the full theory of how your program intervention could lead to — or at least contribute to meaningful and broad change — enables you to be realistic about what level of evaluation makes sense. Are you assessing process (did you do the things) and outputs (how many of them did you do); outcomes or resulting changes in individual knowledge or functioning which can provide some formative evaluation along the way, or summative impact evaluation at the end to assess how the community changed over time? A logic model doesn’t explain how you will conduct the evaluation and it doesn’t doesn’t calculate social return on investment. However, it can set the frame for what’s most important to measure and why.
- For speaking with funders and donors about proposed projects. Again, typically with my trusted Sharpie and sticky notes.
What is this Thing of Beauty and how does it work?
Imagine a project or program you work on. The Program Activities or Interventions produce Outputs. Outputs create Change Results in Individuals, such as in Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes, or Behaviors (aka Outcomes). And finally, Outcomes will develop Impact (or Change Results in Communities/Environment).
In one of the programs we work on, a job training provider in a rural setting trains, supports, and offers high school students opportunities to work in farmers markets (Program). 100 young people will participate, growing produce in at least four school-based greenhouses and selling it in local markets in four towns plus a mobile market (Outputs). 100% will have the opportunity to earn summer income, x% will earn more than $x, x% marked improvement in selected 21C employability skills, and x% will complete the program and receive matched savings accounts (Outcomes). Over time, the sense —and reality— of opportunity for sustainable income through local production and sales will improve (Impact). The final impact may be a stretch in the near term, but with related interventions and investment, as well as refinement of the program model, our client sees possibility and is committed to making it happen.
Another reason to love it: You can also “read” the thing backwards. Ultimate, meaningful community impact comes from aggregated changes in individual lives and functioning, which is created by a certain volume or scale of production of the program activities and interventions.
If the reference is classic enough and not overly dated, I offer you my one-page logic model based on…well based on Star Trek, the original.
Here is a substantive and practical explanation of the logic model by the quiet, steady, brilliant folks at KU’s Community Toolbox.
The logic model has been around for awhile, and in vogue about a decade ago. Most organization leaders develop one in response to a funder request. Like anything ever in vogue, the ol’ logic model can be critiqued for overexposure and questionable depth. However, I still find the concepts useful, especially as a framework for thinking through alignment of activity with anticipated results. Consider this 2012 piece by Matthew Forti, One Acre Fund, in Stanford Social Innovation Review online on Six Theory of Change Pitfalls to Avoid. Of course, you don’t have to use the phrase “logic model” or the associated jargon to appreciate and use the basic idea, this activity produces these results, eventually making meaningful change.