What's the Deal with Logic Models?


As a consultant there are definitely a few buzzwords and phrases that will elicit cringes and eye rolls from almost any client. And one of those phrases is “logic model.” Here are a few of the more common grievances I’ve heard brought against the logic model:

  • They’re confusing. We’ve all seen the “plate of spaghetti” diagram with lines going in every direction, serving more to cross eyes and minds than to provide insight

  • They’re limiting. Nonprofits are trying to solve big problems that don’t have simple solutions. This can make the process of logic modeling intimidating as we try to articulate and organize our complex work.

  • They’re not used. Nothing is more frustrating to busy nonprofit staff than spending time on a document that sits on a shelf and collects dust.

It all boils down to one question: Do logic models really matter for running great programs?

As with all things, the power of the logic model is only in the using of it. When used correctly, a logic model can be a map for researchers, organization leaders and program managers to get everyone going in the same direction. But, the common mistake I’ve seen many researchers and organizations make is to create a logic model that’s not actually a living breathing part of your program or program design. Its up to researchers and program managers or leaders to connect the dots, and I’ve noticed that there are a few straightforward principles you can follow that can help them do this:

  • Start with the Story when I work with clients, I spend a lot of time up front listening to staff and program participants at all levels talk about the impact they have seen from their programs before I even start building a logic model. Using those impact stories, I build a model that is rooted in the way things look on the ground rather than in theory (there is definitely a place for theory but that’s for another blog post!)

  • Take it to the Next Level One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made and seen others make as a program evaluator is to work closely with staff to create a logic model and then forget to explain to program leaders how the model connects to the observations, tools and measures they use to understand program quality. With my clients, I focus on not just delivering a model, but also create a full “metrics map” tool that maps every survey question or data point they collect back to their model as a framework for evaluation and program design

  • Put it to the Test Many organizations find it difficult to find the time to look at their data beyond pulling together grants or board reports, or they feel in the dark about how to get started. But the good news is if you’ve already created a logic model and a metrics map – the difficult part is done! The logic model is like an educated hypothesis and your data is your tool to determine if your hypothesis is working or if its time to change course. Using your logic model to not only plan but also measure your program is the best way to keep it alive.

In the thick of things, a logic model can feel like a luxury you can’t afford, but it can also be a genuine way of learning about your programs and capturing the voices of the people that matter most to what you are doing. After all, every great nonprofit leader knows that a little planning upfront can go a long way.

#evaluation #nonprofit #research

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