Dec 30, 2010

Theory of change and logic models

Community-based change initiatives often have ambitious goals, and so planning specific on-the-ground strategies to those goals is difficult. Likewise, the task of planning and carrying out evaluation research that can inform practice and surface broader lessons for the field in general is a challenge. Theories of change and logic models are vital to evaluation success for a number of reasons. Programmes need to be grounded in good theory. By developing a theory of change based on good theory, managers can be better assured that their programmes are delivering the right activities for the desired outcomes. And by creating a theory of change and a logic model programmes are easier to sustain, bring to scale, and evaluate, since each step - from the ideas behind it, to the outcomes it hopes to provide, to the resources needed - are clearly defined within the theory and displayed within the logic model.

Moves by the evaluation community to tackle this challenge culminated in a 1995 publication, New Approaches to Evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives put out by the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change. In that book, Carol Weiss, a member of the Roundtable’s steering committee on evaluation, hypothesized that a key reason complex programs are so difficult to evaluate is that the assumptions that inspire them are poorly articulated. She argued that stakeholders of complex community initiatives typically are unclear about how the change process will unfold and therefore place little attention to the early and mid-term changes that need to happen in order for a longer term goal to be reached. The lack of clarity about the “mini-steps” that must be taken to reach a long term outcome not only makes the task of evaluating a complex initiative challenging, but reduces the likelihood that all of the important factors related to the long term goal will be addressed. Weiss popularized the term “Theory of Change” as a way to describe the set of assumptions that explain both the mini-steps that lead to the long term goal of interest and the connections between program activities and outcomes that occur at each step of the way. She challenged designers of complex community-based initiatives to be specific about the theories of change guiding their work and suggested that doing so would improve their overall evaluation plans and would strengthen their ability to claim credit for outcomes that were predicted in their theory. Over subsequent years a number of evaluations have been developed around this approach, fueling more interest in the field about its value. The following links lead to information on logic models and theories of change:

  • The logic model for program planning and evaluation PDF icon This short paper from Paul McCawley, University of Idaho Extension, provides a good introduction to completing a logic model. He highlights the importance of keeping it simple - as a model for discussion.

  • Logic models This website from the University of Wisconsin has an example of a logic model and as well tools for creating a logic model in PDF, Word and Excel formats. These tools, which come with instructions, can be downloaded and used for your organization.

  • Introducing program teams to logic models: Facilitating the learning process PDF icon A good introduction to developing a logic model from Nancy Porteous and colleagues. This Research and Practice Note provides the key content, step-by-step facilitation tips, and case study exercises for a half-day logic model workshop for managers, staff, and volunteers. Included are definitions, explanations, and examples of the logic model and its elements, and an articulation of the benefits of the logic model for various planning and evaluation purposes for different audiences.

  • The Community Builder's Approach to Theory of Change; A Practical Guide to Theory Development PDF icon this guide by Andrea A. Anderson is for planners and evaluators who are going to facilitate a process for creating a theory of change with community-based programs and community change initiatives. The guide is in two sections. Section One answers the question “What is a theory of change?” It provides all the information needed to facilitate a theory of change process with a community group. Section Two is a resource toolbox for the theory of change facilitator.

  • Applying a Theory of Change Approach to the Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Progress, Prospects, and Problems PDF icon This 1998 paper by James P. Connell and Anne C. Kubisch presents what thge authors call a "theory of change approach" to evaluating CCIs. They describe three stages in carrying out this approach: i) surfacing and articulating a theory of change; ii) measuring a CCI's activities and intended outcomes; and iii) analyzing and interpreting the results of an evaluation, including their implications for adjusting the initiative's theory of change and its allocation of resources.

  • Enhancing Program Performance with Logic Models This course from the University of Wisconsin extension service introduces a holistic approach to planning and evaluating education and outreach programs. Module 1 helps program practitioners use and apply logic models. Module 2 applies logic modeling to a national effort to evaluate community nutrition education.

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