Logic Models – what they are, why you need them, & how to create one
September 4, 2018 | Melissa Reams

Logic models have been around for nearly 50 years but didn’t really start to gain traction until the mid-1990s, when the United Way started pushing for more outcomes-based efforts. Today, a web search for “logic models” will bring up hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on how to create one.

So why another article on logic models?! Because most of the program managers and executive directors I meet still don’t have one for their programs and services.

WHAT THEY ARE

Logic models (also called a theory of change, model of change, or program framework) provide a visual representation of your program that plainly shows what you plan to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it. There are lots of different ways to structure your logic model, but they all basically do the same thing.

I recommend anyone who’s new to logic models start with a basic, linear model but if you want to see your other options, you can check out some great examples in the University of Kansas’ Community Toolbox.

WHY YOU NEED ONE

I haven’t always been such an avid fan of the logic model. I vividly remember the eye-rolling and toddler-level thrashing that ensued during my first attempt. It all seemed so futile and I had no idea what was supposed to go where.

But after years of developing, implementing, and evaluating programs, I now know that the benefits of a strong logic model are so extensive that it’s worth all the initial frustration.

Here are just a handful of the benefits a logic model provides:

  • Helps you identify what to evaluate.
  • Provides evaluation benchmarks on which you can gauge your program’s success.
  • Keeps you and your staff focused during program development AND implementation.
  • Allows you to identify the resources you’ll need, which forces you to be realistic about your capacity to implement the program.
  • Provides a quick overview for funders, supporters, and stakeholders.
  • Helps you write more organized and concise program descriptions for your grant applications.
  • Creates more consensus and buy-in if you create the logic model with program stakeholders.

HOW TO CREATE ONE

Ideally, you should create a logic model before you implement a program, but it’s never too late.

There are two primary ways to approach a logic model. The first approach is to start from the activities you plan to do (or are doing) and work towards identifying your expected outcomes and impact that will occur as a result of your program. In this approach, you’re using “if/then” logic to guide you through the model. In other words, you’re filling in all your sections by asking yourself, “If we do this or accomplish this, then what will happen next?”. This approach is called forward logic and I find it to be the best approach when you’re already implementing a program.

In the second approach, you start with what you hope to accomplish and work backwards to determine what must happen before you can achieve the next step. In this approach, you’re using “but how?” logic to guide you backwards through the model. In other words, you’re filling in all your sections by asking, “But how will we ensure this outcome/impact is achieved?”. This approach is called backwards logic and I think it’s most useful when you’re planning a new program.

For all the non-linear thinkers out there, feel free to develop your logic model any way that works for you. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, as long as you get it done!

Who to invite to your logic model party

Now that you have an idea of how you might approach your model, it’s time to put together your team of logic model developers. I’m sure you’re entirely capable of developing a logic model alone, and it would certainly be quicker, but including others in this process will create more consensus, buy-in, and will better ensure your program achieves its intended outcomes. Here are some folks you may want to include:

  • Program staff. Program staff will have the most insight on what activities are realistic, what their current capacity is to implement a new program, and the programs, services, or activities that will most likely produce the desired outcomes.
  • Program participants. Including individuals who could feasibly participate in your program (same age, gender, school, etc.) is extremely important, especially if you’ve never worked with this population before. These folks will have unique insight on how your target population will respond to program activities, including outreach and marketing events, incentives, number of sessions, program name, etc.
  • Community members. Similar to program participants, community members will best understand what will be acceptable in their community and can help develop realistic outputs and outcomes. They may also be able to share their experiences with similar programs that have been implemented in their community in the past.
  • Evaluators. Most of the information in your logic model needs to be measurable so it’s important to include an evaluator in this process. Evaluators can help you create specific, measurable outcomes and recommend ways in which you can measure each outcome.
  • Grant writers. If you’re creating a logic model for a specific grant application, be sure to include your grant writer in this process. They will best understand the funder’s mission and priorities, as well as specific application requirements.
  • Finance staff. If there’s a chance your group will go wild dreaming up their ideal program, you may want to include your finance staff in the process. These folks will have insight on activities that are financially feasible and may have recommendations for more affordable alternatives.

How to get started

Start your process by sharing the community problem you hope to address. Examples include high rates of poverty, crime, homelessness, obesity, motor vehicle crashes, or juvenile crime. Ideally, you should have data to show the extent of the problem (e.g., 72% of the county is living below the federal poverty level).

What to include in each box

Now for the fun stuff…filling in the boxes! No matter what type of logic model you decide to use, the sections below are commonly found in most models.

Inputs. Inputs are the specific resources needed to ensure the program is implemented successfully. Examples include staff, funding, volunteers, incentives, and meeting locations.

Activities. This section includes all the activities you’ll implement so you can achieve future outcomes. Examples include workshops, trainings, counseling sessions, or any other resources/services provided to your participants.

Outputs. Outputs are the measurable products of your activities. Examples include the number of workshops or number of participants.

Outcomes. Outcomes are the measurable results you expect to see in your participants as a direct result of your program. Outcomes are typically presented across a continuum of time, from short-term to intermediate to long-term. The time period in which these changes are expected to occur vary depending on the program.

Short-term outcomes. These outcomes are the immediate results you expect to see in your participants after they complete your program. These outcomes are typically easy to measure and can often be directly attributed to your program. Short-term outcome examples include the percent of participants who show increased knowledge, awareness, skills, or self-efficacy.

Intermediate outcomes. These outcomes are the future results you want to see in your participants as a result of your program. These are the outcomes that should occur following a participant’s achievement of your program’s short-term outcomes. These outcomes are a little harder to measure but can often still be attributed to your program. Intermediate outcome examples include the percent of participants who initiate behavior change or accomplish an intended milestone, such as high school graduation.

Long-term outcomes. These outcomes are the results you hope to see for your participants as a result of your program. Long-term outcomes are a change in a participant’s condition because of their achievement of the short-term and intermediate outcomes. Most organizations don’t have the capacity to measure this far into the future and these outcomes are difficult to link directly to your program. Examples include the percent of participants who maintain behavior change or achieve future success beyond the intermediate outcomes, such as graduating from college.

Impact. Your program’s impact is the measurable results you hope to see in your community because of the accomplishments of your participants. Examples include a reduction in health or social issues or an increase in a desirable community quality. Although you’ll likely never be able to prove your program caused the change you see in your community, it’s still worth tracking. Because ultimately, the impact we’re working towards is why we keep doing what we’re doing, right?

FINAL POINTERS

Here are a few final pointers to keep in mind:

  • Don’t worry about creating a textbook-perfect logic model. The most important thing is having some representation of what you’re doing and what you hope to achieve.
  • Logic models for homegrown programs are going to change as you learn more about what works and doesn’t work. Don’t worry about having it perfect upfront because there will be plenty of opportunities for improvements.
  • If you’re implementing an evidence-based program, it likely already has a logic model. Work smarter, not harder and use the program’s existing logic model in its entirety or as a guide to create yours (with proper citation, of course!).
  • If you’re creating a logic model for a grant application, ALWAYS use the funder’s preferred template.
  • If you’re ready to delve really deep into logic model creation, I recommend checking out the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Logic Model Development Guide

Need help putting together your logic model? Call or email us today!

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Melissa Reams

Hi! I'm Melissa, the Principal Consultant at Upstream Consulting. Learn more about how we help organizations make a bigger impact in their communities or read more about me and our other team members on our About Us page.

Published by Melissa Reams

Melissa Reams Hi! I'm Melissa, the Principal Consultant at Upstream Consulting. Learn more about how we help organizations make a bigger impact in their communities or read more about me and our other team members on our About Us page.

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