What are program logic models?

(Created with Wordle)

(Created with Wordle)

[Updated 13 July 2017 to add a new resource.]

Program logic models are like “road maps” which show how your initiative will work and why you believe that if you do certain things, you will get the results you are working towards. The main aim of program logic models, which have been around for over 30 years [1], is to “clarify and test” [2] the rationale underpinning what you believe you can achieve with your given resources.

Holt [3] suggests that a program logic:

  1. Is a picture of why and how you believe an initiative will work
  2. Demonstrates that the design and implementation have been done competently
  3. Provides a foundation for program planning and program evaluation
  4. Is a powerful tool for creating a dialogue and shared understanding of an initiative
  5. Provides a chain of reasoning that links investments with results
  6. Is a series of “if-then” relationships that, if implemented as intended, lead to the desired outcomes

The following program logic is for some work we (the Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle) are doing in supporting nine services in regional NSW, funded through the Federal Children and Parenting Support program, to enhance the implementation of evidence-based programs and practice. This work is being done through the Families and Children Expert Panel established by the Department of Social Services. As the model illustrates (Figure 1), they are a graphical depiction of the logical linkages among program resources (the inputs), activities, outputs, and short- and longer-term outcomes related to a specific situation.

Figure 1: Example of Program Logic (Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle)

Figure 1: Example of Program Logic (Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle)

The main components of most program logic models are:

  1. Inputs – the resources that are vital for the success of your initiative. They can include human, financial, physical, organisational and community resources in any combination.
  2. Activities – the specific actions you will undertake with the available resources to bring about change. They can include a wide range of activities including direct service delivery, development of resources, research, special events and workshops.
  3. Outputs – the direct results of your activities; they describe what are produced or created. They essentially show how much you will do and are often described in terms of the size and/or scope of what you deliver.
  4. Outcomes – specific changes in awareness, attitudes, behaviours, knowledge, skills, status, etc. which you can reasonably expect as a result of your activities. They essentially explain what difference you will make. Outcomes are usually subdivided in some way. The example in Figure 1 uses short- and longer-term outcomes, but they could be short-, medium- and long-term. Sometimes they include impact which is the ultimate intended change in a family, organisation, community, or other system [4-6].

While all program logic models provide a logical chain of activities and outcomes – “if we do X, then Y should happen” [7] – how they are presented can take a variety of forms (for some examples see Further Resources). In addition to the five components listed above, there are a variety of other ones that can be included in a program logic such as:

  1. Measures – A program logic helps in planning evaluations by focusing the evaluation on the principal elements of the initiative and highlighting outcomes that need to be tracked, and thus some models include specific measures.
  2. AssumptionsKnowlton & Phillips [4] argue that while program logic models don’t always show their assumptions, they still rely on them. If these underlying assumptions are unfounded, they can hinder success or produce less-than-expected results, and so it can help to be explicit about our assumptions.
  3. The context – Some program logic models include the context you are working in (e.g., the geographic location, community characteristics, local networks, staff issues, and social or cultural considerations).
  4. External factors – Related to the context, some models include external factors over which there is little control (e.g., the political and economic environment) which can influence the success of the project.

If… then… sequence

It can be helpful to think of program logic models as a series of “If…. Then…” sequences (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: If... then... sequence. (Adapted from W.K. Kellogg Foundation [6])

Figure 2: If… then… sequence. (Adapted from W.K. Kellogg Foundation [6])

Although the “If…. Then…” relationships can feel too simple and linear for the complex contexts in which we work, adopting this approach can assist in uncovering gaps in logic, clarifying assumptions and identifying appropriate measures [5]. If our program logic is based on evidence-based programs and practice, and sound research, then we can have more confidence in our model [4].

Why use a program logic

There can be a range of benefits to developing and using a program logic.

  • Program logic models help with planning by encouraging you to think systematically about what your initiative is trying to accomplish, the steps you will take to reach your goals and what resources you will need [6-8].
  • A program logic can help ensure that your team and other stakeholders have a common understanding about your initiative’s purpose, how you intend to achieve your desired results and your progress towards achieving your intended outcomes. They can also help build partnerships and improve communication [2, 6-9].
  • A program logic can form the foundation for monitoring and evaluation because they help clarify the principle elements of your initiative, the relevant outcomes that need to be measured and a framework from how to monitor your progress [1-3, 6-9].
  • A program logic can promote critical reflection by being the starting point for ongoing discussion and reflection about the planning and progress of your work. Because developing a program logic is a conscious process that makes your assumptions and intentions clear, it can help with critical reflection when planning your program and reviewing your progress [6-9].
  • A program logic can help clarify and demonstrate the evidence-base for your initiative [6, 8].
  • A program logic can help present a strong case for how and why your initiative will produced your intended outcomes, and help explain your initiative to a range of external stakeholders, including funding bodies [6, 8].

How to create a program logic

There is no one correct way to create program logic, and the format used can vary. The most important thing is that it is a process that works for your context, helps you to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and how you will go about it, and provides others with an understanding of the rationale for your initiative. The following program logic template (by University of Wisconsin-Extension [5]) is a slightly different format to the one we used for our program logic.

Program logic template (Source: Taylor-Powell and Henert [5], p 56 of the PDF)

Program logic template (Source: Taylor-Powell and Henert [5], p 56 of the PDF)

There are two broad approaches to creating program logic models [5]:

  1. Start at the end by identifying the long-term outcomes you want to achieve, and then work backwards to identify the chain of outcomes that will help achieve these long-term outcomes, what you will do (the activities) to produce these outcomes and finish with what resources (the inputs) you will need to undertake these activities.
  2. Start with the activities you have been funded for, or plan to undertake, and your expected resources, and then work forwards through the IF… THEN… sequence (Figure 2).

In order to ensure that your program logic is built on evidence-based practice, it is important to consider research evidence, practitioner wisdom and experience, and family experience and insights (Figure 3) in creating your model.

Figure 3: Evidence-based practice. (Adapted from Walsh, Rolls Reutz, & Williams [10])

Figure 3: Evidence-based practice. (Adapted from Walsh, Rolls Reutz, & Williams [10])

The Center for Youth and Communities [7] suggests eight questions to consider as you create a program logic:

  1. Will the planned strategies really lead to the expected outcomes?
  2. Are all target groups, strategies, and outcomes included?
  3. Do you have enough resources to do what you are planning?
  4. Does each outcome have a strategy that will lead to it?
  5. Does each strategy lead to one or more outcomes?
  6. Are the outcomes really outcomes, not strategies or activities?
  7. Are the outcomes reasonably measurable?
  8. Are all stakeholders in agreement about the program logic model?

Remember that that process of creating a program logic can be as important as the final product. It can thus be helpful to work with other members of your team and possibly other stakeholders.

Taylor-Powell and Henert [5] have useful responses to some frequently answered questions about creating program logic models including:

  1. What is the right way to construct a logic model?
  2. How general or specific should a logic model be?
  3. When is the best time to develop a logic model?
  4. What happens when my logic model shows that the outcomes we want don’t connect to the activities that we are doing?
  5. Do we include specific, numeric targets – numbers to achieve – in our logic model?
  6. Do we include data collection methods and measurement strategies in the logic model?
  7. How can we move logic models from “just paper work” to a way of thinking – a mental process that undergirds our programming?
  8. Are there any limitations in using a logic model – anything we should be cautious about?

There are a number of other resources that could help you develop a program logic in Further Resources (below).

Conclusion

Although program logic models are not a guarantee of success, (we are, after all, working in a complex environment and there are many external factors that can impact on implementation), they can provide a solid foundation for our work. They help ensure that we incorporate evidence-based programs and practice into our work, and think critically and logically about the relationship between what we do and what we want to achieve.

The best way to learn about program logic models is to actually work through the process of creating one. Please let us know how it goes!

Further resources

This post came from a project I’m working on supporting nine children and parenting support programs in regional and rural NSW to enhance their capacity to implement evidence-based programs and practice. The project was funded by the Department funded by the Department of Social Services through the Children and Families Expert Panel. You can see other posts relating to this work at https://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/resources-for-students/expert-panel-caps/.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. What are complex problems?
  2. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  3. Some good articles/links – engaging ‘hard to reach’ families
  4. A resilience practice framework by the Benevolent Society
  5. Childhood trauma and brain development
  6. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?

References

  1. McCawley, P. F. (2002). The logic model for program planning and evaluation: University of Idaho Extension. Available from http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edcomm/pdf/CIS/CIS1097.pdf
  2. Gugiu, P. C., & Rodríguez-Campos, L. (2007). Semi-structured interview protocol for constructing logic models. Evaluation and Program Planning, 30(4), 339-350.
  3. Holt, L. (2009). Understanding program logic. Victorian Department of Human Service Retrieved from https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/Api/downloadmedia/%7B4247D1CE-2319-444A-95AB-50483A1757BC%7D.
  4. Knowlton, L. W., & Phillips, C. C. (2009). The logic model guidebook : better strategies for great results. Los Angeles: SAGE. Available from http://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/23938_Chapter_3___Creating_Program_Logic_Models.pdf
  5. Taylor-Powell, E., & Henert, E. (2008). Developing a logic model: Teaching and training guide. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension. Available from https://fyi.uwex.edu/programdevelopment/files/2016/03/lmguidecomplete.pdf
  6. K. Kellogg Foundation. (2004). Using logic models to bring together planning, evaluation, and action: Logic model development guide (2nd. ed.). Michigan: W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Available from https://www.wkkf.org/resource-directory/resource/2006/02/wk-kellogg-foundation-logic-model-development-guide
  7. Center for Youth and Communities. (2014). Developing logic models. Paper presented at the Leading for Change: Diversity Practices in Higher Education Conference, Brandeis University. https://www.bridgew.edu/sites/default/files/relatedfiles/LOGIC-MODELS-overview-6.3.14.pdf
  8. The Pell Institute, & Pathways to College Network. (n.d.). Using a logic model. Evaluation toolkit. Retrieved 19 February 2016, from http://toolkit.pellinstitute.org/evaluation-guide/plan-budget/using-a-logic-model/
  9. Parker, R., & Robinson, E. (2013). Planning for evaluation I: Basic principles Australian Institute of Family Studies. Available from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/planning-evaluation-i-basic-principles
  10. Walsh, C., Rolls Reutz, J., & Williams, R. (2015). Selecting and implementing evidence-based practices: A guide for child and family serving systems (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare. Available from http://www.cebc4cw.org/files/ImplementationGuide-Apr2015-onlinelinked.pdf

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What are program logic models?

  1. TonyJ2 says:

    Reblogged this on Awareness to Action and commented:
    I like using Program Logic models, particularly for showing outcomes in addition to a focus on the usual drivers of outputs. Graeme makes simple descriptions and highlights benefits of this approach. Nice.

    Like

  2. TonyJ2 says:

    Nice presentation of Program Logic elements to share with my colleagues. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dave2718 says:

    This is a useful tool in a wide range of complex situations. Not only does it allow you to challenge and clarify your thinking, it allows you to explore what you need to believe for it all to work (ie. help expose and articular assumptions) and also what resources and skills will be needed

    Liked by 2 people

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