The Logic Model – A Useful Tool or a Waste of Time?

If you have ever asked evaluators or performance measurement professionals about logic models, you might have gotten the sense that they believe logic models to be the best thing to happen to the world since sliced bread. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you came away from that conversation thinking that logic models are the reason sliced bread was invented in the first place!!

Just imagine a baker, a knife-maker, and a frazzled parent sitting around a table with a whiteboard, post-it notes, and a bowl of carrots, coming to consensus on their shared vision of the world and creating this logic model together:

breadBeautiful thought, right?!  Unfortunately for sandwich-loving evaluators everywhere, that doesn’t seem how it actually happened.  Well, shucks.  But anyway….

There is no shortage of logic model resources and guides from places like the CDC, WK Kellogg Foundation, the Innovation Network, and my personal favorite at The Community Toolbox by the University of Kansas.  But are they everything they are built up to be?  Is the world too fixated on logic models? Could it all just be a waste of time?

As any good graduate student knows, the right answer is usually “It depends!”

Logic models are merely tools, but they are quite flexible tools.  Like any tool, they are useful for some things, not for others.  The resources above all do a pretty good job of explaining the different ways a logic model might be useful; I won’t regurgitate them all here.  But I will say that there are certain points in a program’s life cycle where the process of logic modelling can be extremely valuable, particularly in program development, evaluation, and developing shared understanding of the program.

If you have never completed a logic model for your program with a variety of stakeholders in the room, you would probably be surprised at how different the perspectives on the program can be.  Logic modelling can also get emotional (It’s true!) as people reflect on the true purpose of the program and what it means for them – and building a logic model can be a great way of reminding yourself why you do this work in the first place.  But they can also go years gathering dust on the shelf serving no real purpose.

Logic models are the lingua franca for evaluation professionals.  Just like most organizations use Microsoft Excel, nearly every evaluator or performance measurement professional uses logic models.  That is not to say that they are the only tool, just that logic models are the standard for outlining how certain set of activities is designed to lead to a certain set of outcomes; this can be extremely useful for a variety of purposes.

If you are unsure if going through a logic model process with your team will be a waste of time, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do I need to clarify how and why my program works?
  • Do I need to define or refine the outcomes we are trying to achieve?
  • Do I need to get a variety of stakeholders to agree on the program model or goals?
  • Do I need to communicate how the things I do lead to the goals I’m trying to achieve?

If the answer is yes to any of those questions, a logic model might be the right tool for you.  Who knows, you might just come up with the best thing to be invented since sliced bread.

Do you find logic models useful? Are there other tools you have found more helpful for certain things?

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2 thoughts on “The Logic Model – A Useful Tool or a Waste of Time?

  1. You’re sliced bread logic model actually made me burst out laughing at my desk. 🙂

    I was originally trained to always have a traditional logic model (inputs, activities, outputs, etc.) but in more recent years I’ve drifted toward a theory of change approach – linking outcomes and activities but with an emphasis on how and why the change is expected to come about. I think both approaches have their strengths depending on the context.

    In my experience, whether you use a logic model or a theory of change or whatever else you want to call it, getting program people to think about things such as linking activities to short- and long-term outcomes is tremendously helpful!

    • Thanks Carrie!

      I agree that one of the keys to using tools like logic models or theories of change is really understanding your context and the goals you are trying to achieve. But regardless of the approach you use, thinking through the rationale of how your activities drive toward your outcomes is a critical process for public service programs everywhere.

      Patrick

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