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Logic Models Week: Debra Smith and Galen Ellis on How Logic Models Can Be Used to Develop Evaluation Systems

We are Debra Smith and Galen Ellis, two evaluators who discovered through AEA that we share a common method of using logic models to facilitate systems thinking with our clients. Many people think logic models are a complicated exercise with little value. Some are downright cynical, saying they tend to represent “a tenuous chain of unproven assumptions used to justify the pre-determined program model” (Public Health Director).

We both use a two-phase logic model development process: first, we help our clients develop a balcony view “theory of change” by identifying the global goal or vision and mapping key resources, strategies and outcomes. Clarity in Phase I, makes going to Phase II—identifying outputs and short, mid and long-term outcomes and measures—more manageable and meaningful.

Debra: I first used this approach while working with a museum education department to develop an evaluation system for their programs. We mapped the overall theory of the department, tracking resources and activities leading to their long-term vision, which they described as “the community loving the museum.” Staff were then able to develop logic models for their individual programs, and then a system that streamlined the data they collected within and across programs.

Galen: I have facilitated logic model processes for the development of agency-wide evaluation systems with several organizations in this two-step process. The theory of change process helps the client articulate how their activities and the outcomes they expect fit with their agency’s values and mission. Then I work with each individual program/project within the organization to develop its own logic models that link to the agency’s broader theory of change. This shifts the culture of the organization towards being outcomes-based, and helps connect the distinct programs via common outcomes that reflect the agency’s values and mission.

Lessons Learned:

  • Logic models can help prevent mission drift. The agency-level logic model will capture outcomes that are aligned with the mission. Programs within the organization can then align with those outcomes and share evaluation measures, leveraging the broader organizational goals to guide their own success.
  • Using the logic model process to develop an agency-wide evaluation system elevates the value of evaluation within the organization.

Rad Resources:

Hot Tips:

  • Showing how a logic model tells a story can help clients understand the role and value of a logic model. Galen uses the metaphor of crossing a river. Video Clip
  • Even in developmental projects, it can be helpful to map the theory of change, then refine it based on what is learned.

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.

2 thoughts on “Logic Models Week: Debra Smith and Galen Ellis on How Logic Models Can Be Used to Develop Evaluation Systems”

  1. Pingback: Ellis Planning Associates Inc » Getting There

  2. Tiffany Sockwell

    Good afternoon, Team,

    My name is Tiffany Sockwell, and I am a graduate student at Texas A&M University-Central Texas. My area of study is human resources, and I am enrolled in a course called Program Evaluation here at the university. I took the course for personal interest; I must say that your post regarding logic models is very interesting. On a recent project that I just completed, we were required to complete a logic model. Our professor gave us various resources to use to help us with our model. I agree with the notion that the model helps keep the research team on track, on mission. As our class was examining the logic models for each project, each of us thought of items that should probably be added to the models as additional points of study. I also believe that the models help frame the research and, in a sense, help refine the research questions for a particular study or project. Thank you for sharing!

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