The late great Yogi Berra had a way with words. One Yogi-ism I invoke on almost a daily basis with my clients is “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” More crudely put, it’s important to have a vision – a goal – without that, you’re basically wandering aimlessly. Just as important, however, is the path you’ll take to get there – a plan.
In the social sector, one of the most powerful tools an organization can have in its arsenal is the Logic Model framework. Ok, so for those of you who are familiar with logic models, you may be wondering why I’m not talking about Theory of Change. First, let’s quickly discuss the difference between the two.
A logic model is a model that logically explains how the work you’re doing is expected to lead to desired results. The illustration below outlines a logic model in its purest form and can be applied at the organization level but is most commonly used to represent program activities and their outputs and outcomes. These models can get quite detailed but they are incredibly useful as a starting point when designing evaluations and performance management systems.
A theory of change is slightly more complicated. A theory of change is essentially a logic model with higher expectations – the relationships between the components (activities, outputs, outcomes) are causal. This can be a lot harder to produce since outcomes are so often influenced by factors outside your program or control. So, I tend to use the term Theory of Change a little more loosely and consider it simply a high level explanation of how your work is expected to help achieve your vision. In short, it states how we’ll get “from here to there.”
To sum this up, think back to grade school, when we learned about squares and rectangles. A Theory of Change is a kind of Logic Model but not every Logic Model is a Theory of Change.
My dream is a world in which every social enterprise has a clearly articulated theory of change (currently, only about half of nonprofits do) AND uses logic models to design, improve, and communicate about its programs. If you are in the naughty 50 percent, here are a few reasons why you should consider drafting a logic model sooner rather than later:
- CLARITY: What is our work really about? What are we seeking to achieve and how will we will we get there?
- VALUE: How is our program addressing the problem area? Why should a donor invest in us?
- IMPROVEMENT: Is what we’re doing working? Should we continue doing this, in this way?
- ALIGNMENT: Are we all working toward the same goal(s)? How does everyone’s work in the organization fit in to the broader vision?
If you’re not convinced, one more reason to get on the bandwagon is that logic models are a great way to capture the history of your organization and learn from it. All organizations are constantly evolving and logic models are living frameworks. The model can serve as a stake in the ground – a snapshot of your work at a point in time. If you make a major adjustment to a program, or to the approach of the organization as a whole, create a new version of that logic model. Eventually, you’ll have a valuable timeline and an account of what worked and didn’t work in the past. You might even find that your new programs aren’t all that new and thinking “It’s like déjà vu all over again!”