NPF TIG Week: When Logic Models Alone Just Won’t Do—Use a Conceptual Framework! by Kristina Jamal and Jacqueline Singh

Greetings, we are Kristina Jamal and Jacqueline Singh. In addition to being NPFTIG members, we serve on the PDTIG leadership team. Kristina is founder of Open Hearts Helping Hands (OH3), a nonprofit that collaborates with student-focused organizations and community members. Jacqueline is an evaluation/program design advisor and founder of Qualitative Advantage, LLC. We started working together to help OH3 move from being a young nonprofit “flying by the seat of its pants” to becoming a viable organization that competes for funds to bring about common outcomes between formal and informal secondary education organizations.

Because foundations and grantors look for promising programs that can get results, we wanted to move beyond logic model linearity to show a complementary and easy-to-understand way of how a nonprofit program is strategic and intentional. From a nonprofit’s perspective, this AEA365 article addresses the utility of conceptual frameworks and models for front-end evaluation activities, measurement, and strategic planning. 

Lesson Learned: Collecting evidence for improvement, decision-making, and accountability continues to intensify. Funders expect recipients to partner with other organizations and provide evidence of program outcomes. Young nonprofits are overwhelmed at the thought of where to begin. Indeed, navigating disciplinary fields, paradigms of inquiry, and complex environments that commingle evaluation with research can be daunting. Conceptual frameworks can reveal program alignment with other operating mechanisms that logic models alone may miss—and, help bridge the relationship evaluation has with strategic planning, measurement, program management, and accountability. They are often used within the context of evaluability assessment (EA) and prospective evaluation synthesis (PES) as exemplified within these links. Similarly, nonprofits can use conceptual frameworks to clarify their purpose, questions and build evaluation capacity.

Program designs are merely abstractions unless conceptualizations are made explicit and understood by stakeholders. Creating conceptual frameworks is developmental and experiential. The process involves document analysis, reading literature, asking questions, describing and defining relationships, capturing or proposing plausible links between components or emerging factors—dependent upon what is to be evaluated. Conceptual frameworks such as the OH3 Conceptual Framework take “context” into account and help nonprofits to expand their view of what logic models capture.

Hot Tip: Do not undervalued or overlook conceptual frameworks. They come in a variety of forms, serve different purposes, and help figure out what is going on. Conceptual frameworks provide an aerial view and are useful for connecting multiple areas of disciplinary work (e.g. research, theory, policy, technology, etc.). They help guide the selection of useful data collection tools and evaluation strategies.

Rad Resources: What we have found to be useful for understanding how to create conceptual frameworks, thinking through overlapping aspects of program design, measurement, and focusing future evaluations are: 1) James Jaccard. & Jacob Jacoby’s Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills, 2) Joseph Maxwell’s Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach, 3) Joseph Wholey’s Exploratory Evaluation approach (EA) in the Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation, and 4) Matthew Miles & Michael Huberman’s Expanded Sourcebook: Qualitative Data Analysis.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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