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Logic Models Week: Tom Chapel on How Logic Models Can Be a Strategic Planning Tool

I’m Tom Chapel. My “day job” is Chief Evaluation Officer at the CDC where I help our programs/ partners with evaluation and strategic planning. I took on both roles because large organizations do strategic planning and evaluation in different silos, even though both silos start with “who are we?” “what are we trying to accomplish?” and “what does success look like?”

In response, we’ve crafted an approach to strategic planning which employs logic models, but in a different way than for evaluation. The key steps: Compose a simple logic model of activities and outcomes (or what some might call a “theory of change”). I want stakeholders to understand the “what” of their program (activities) and the “so what” (the sequence of outcomes/impacts). Usually, we add arrows to reflect the underlying logic/theory.

  1. Choose/affirm an “accountable outcome”. It’s great to include “reduced morbidity and mortality” in the model as a reminder of what we’re about. But be sure to explain that these are areas for “contribution” and not outcomes attributable solely to their efforts.
  2. Have the “output talk”. The model shows which activities drive which outcomes. Outputs are the chance to define how the activity MUST be implemented for those outcomes to occur. This discussion sets up creation of process measures for the evaluator later on but at this point provides clarity for planners and implementers on the levels of intensity/quality/quantity needed.
  3. Help them identify “killer assumptions”. There are dozens of inputs and moderating factors (context) over which a program has less or no control. Look for ones so serious that if that input or moderator is not dealt with the program really can’t achieve its intended outcomes. Depressing as this exercise can be, it spurs creative thinking— how might we work around/refine our activities to accommodate it?
  4. Tie it all together with a (short) list of key strategic issues. Hit the high points —mission, vision, SWOT and move on to goals and objectives. This technique avoids the painful wordsmithing that often comes with traditional strategic planning.

Lessons Learned:

  • Use existing resources. The organization may have a mission and vision, an existing strategic plan, a business plan, or a set of performance measures. Extract the starter model from these resources so they see the logic model as a visual depiction of how they already think about their program and not something completely new.
  • Do the process in digestible bites and WITH the program. You want people to follow the storyline and that happens more often if they are part of the model construction.
  • If in return for minimal word-smithing we inflict endless arrow-smithing, fatigue will soon set in. Declare victory when the group is 85% in agreement with the picture.

Rad Resource: Phillips and Knowlton: The Logic Model Guidebook (2nd edition)

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Logic Model Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who have used logic models in their practice. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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