Section 3: The Theory of Change
How can we use a “theory of change” or “logic model” framework to develop a better understanding of key assumptions and implementation challenges of a program? How do these models guide our design of key performance indicators?
The Theory of Change
Theory of Change: A Practical Tool for Action, Results, and Learning (2004). Annie E. Casey Foundation. Read pp 1-17.
Author: Rosa, Adelaide Lee; Editor: Sears, Kicia Kimberly
Theory of Change
Carol Weiss outlines the centrality of good theory to practical issues. Proper articulation of the theory involved in a specific organizational change allows those affected by the change to better understand the process. In order to promote a more comprehensive understanding, a roadmap can be an extremely effective tool. Key elements of the roadmap include “assumptions, such as the final destination, the context for the map, the processes to engage in during the journey and the belief system” (Theory of Change 1).
An outcome map outlines relationships between process and results; it is a “visual diagram” that links the chosen strategies to their intended effects. It is a useful tool that can be applied to small-scale, short term projects or meta-scale long term initiatives. In order for an outcome map to be successful, it must represent the perspective of affected communities.
A list of assumptions should underpin any working documents presented to the public and involved stakeholders alike; the information presented has greater meaning when it can easily be understood in the context by which it was envisioned and created.
Impact effects are incremental changes that occur as the initiative progresses. Typically these include changes for individuals that then aggregate to changes for populations and communities. However, impact effects by themselves are merely steps along the path and do not ensure durable results.
Here follows a list of potential outcome areas that might serve as useful measures of change during the planning and implementation of an initiative. It is critical to note that each initiative will by its nature incorporate a unique assembly of outcome areas, and further that the provided list is far from complete. Also critical for the following impact effects, as well as influence and leverage effects, is the need to operationalize the concept.
- attitudes, perceptions, beliefs
- family stability
- financial status
- social conditions
- economic conditions
An outcome statement showing a change in behavior, for example, may be something like increased voting in the community. Changes in family stability may be shown in effects such as an increase in families maintaining a stable residence.
Influence effects are much more likely to engender lasting change, as they target institutions, cultural and social norms, public policies, laws, regulations, and much more. In conjunction with impact effects, they result in successful initiatives.
- visibility of issue
- community norms
- public will
- political will
- service practices
- business practices
Influence outcomes may take the form of a community's increased belief in its power to make changes happen, partners in the community sharing resources and data, and political leaders becoming more aware of community issues.
Often overlooked, leverage effects form the third pillar of meaningful change. This subtle but critical aspect involves changes to the investment climate.
- public funds
- available community resources
- private investment
Leverage can be expressed as a reallocation of public funds to a certain problem or solution area, new resources within the community accessible for the specific purpose of improving the lives of residents, and expanding business opportunities.
Core capacities are “building blocks that enable powerful strategies to become actualized … people, processes, supports, models, techniques, structures, plans, frameworks, inputs.” Each of these is extremely useful as an independent operator, but they function best in symbiosis. Proper communication for example supports a collective vision and results framework. Effective partnerships can result in an authentic civil demand. Core capacities, effectively developed, lead to achievement in “impact, influence, and leverage outcomes” (Theory of Change 10). Of all the core capacities, formation of a working group stands out as the most foundational.
A causal relationship pathway, known informally as a “so that” chain helps stakeholders see where their influence can be felt on the way to change. It can be drawn graphically with directional arrows or sequentially with logical statements. In essence, it forms the skeleton of the aforementioned outcome map. It is entirely possible and even likely that an outcome map will have multiple “so that” chains. Core capacities are visualized as inputs. Impact, influence and leverage can be viewed as outputs, although they are often interim outputs on the way to the ultimate objective.
_Millar (2001). “Logic Models: A Systems Tool for Performance Management.” Evaluation and Program Planning Review, Vol 24: pp 73-81. _
Author: Washington, Layvon Q; Editor: Lancto, Katelyn N
The authors Millar, Simeone, and Carnevale defines the logic model process as tools that assist program managers and evaluators in determining the effectiveness of their programs by assessing the nexuses between program resources, activities, outputs, audiences, and outcomes related to a specific problem or situation. The authors describe the logic model as a cause and effect relationship between program inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. Through this model, managers and evaluators must analyze how an input will effect an outcome.
The process of the logic model begins with the outcome, before the inputs. The outcomes aids in ensuring that the program managers are able to answer the questions, such as what still needs to be done, rather than what has already been done. The authors also note that it is important to begin with outcomes, rather than inputs because inputs may create constraints for current activities. This process addresses the issue of limited control over complex issues because the concepts that need to be considered are described when we seek such outcomes.
Logic models are also important in addressing challenges by outlining the intermediate results that are critical in achieving crucial objectives. When the objectives are not met, it is often critical to reprogram. The logic model process aids in fostering action plans with timelines and positions, which can further act as a restructuring tool. Logic models also identify partnerships that are crucial to enhancing our performance.
The elements of the Logic Model include the situation, which is a statement that provides the opportunity to communicate the relevance of the project to stakeholders, the inputs, which is what we invest, the outputs, which is what we do and who we reach, and the outcomes in the short-, medium-, and long term changes. The Logic Model allows for a link between the problem (situation) to the intervention (our inputs and outputs), and the impact (outcome).
The logic model process, the authors argue, are essential in helping to transition from measuring performance to managing performance. The transition occurs when stakeholders work together with other parties to set objectives and examine expectations. However, this model falls short of examining external factors, as stated by Miller, whether in the form of actors or structural occurrence.
A logic model framework can be used to develop a better understanding of key assumptions and implementation challenges of a program by assessing the causes of gaps and ways to fix those gaps and other complexities. Moreover, action plans can act as the vehicle to reaching solutions and better understanding challenges. A project originally designed with assessment in mind is much more likely to yield beneficial data, should evaluation be desired. When the focus is on outcome, we ask ourselves “what needs to be done?”, rather than “what is being done?” The logical model is a mere process that aids in developing effective programs, and while helpful, can have external factors that are harmful to a program.