Sheila B. Robinson on Theory of Change vs Logic Model – A LinkedIn Discussion

I’m Sheila B. Robinson, aea365’s Lead Curator and sometimes Saturday contributor.

You’ve probably read about AEA’s LinkedIn page for fabulous free discussion about anything evaluation. Today, I want to highlight one particular discussion that has sparked a good deal of participation from a diverse group of evaluators.

Terminology has always been a sticky point for evaluators as those from different sectors (i.e. health, education, non-profits, government, etc.) have developed their own preferences and in many cases, definitions of terms.

This* discussion started by a Project Manager received 51 responses – not the longest discussion  – but nonetheless a rich and detailed investigation into these two terms. (*you will need to have a LinkedIn account to access the discussion)

Evaluators rang in on this from a variety of perspectives. Positions identified in the profiles included a:

  • Research Analyst
  • Prevention Specialist
  • Independent Consultant
  • Strategy and Planning Advisor
  • Community-based Impact, Assessment and Evaluation Consultant
  • Impact, Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Specialist
  • Senior Public Engagement Associate
  • Policy Analyst
  • And several owners and presidents of research, consulting, or evaluation firms.

The discussion featured individuals who offered their own definitions of the two terms, after which several became engaged in a discussion of how these tools are used or should be used in practice.

Lesson Learned: Most commenters consider logic models and theories of change as related but distinct. Several indicate that theories of change are indeed embedded in logic models.

Here is how some commenters describe logic models:

  • help identify inputs, activities and outcomes
  • trace a flow of inputs through program activities to some sort of output or even on to outcome, and are usually intended as handy guides to program implementer
  • visual model of how a program works
  • represent the basic resource and accountability bargain between the ‘funder’ and the ‘funded’

Here is how some commenters describe theories of change:

  • show how and why outcomes/activities cause change
  • an attempt to make explicit the “whys” behind relationships or expected outcome
  • explicit or implicit theory of how change occurs
  • how one designs a program as it breaks out how and why the change pathway will happen
  • work behind the scenes, and can be drawn from to assemble logic models

Rad Resources: Several commenters offer resources for exploring these concepts:

I recommend these blog posts on the topic:

and this one on the topic of evaluation terminology:

And finally, I must recommend Kylie Hutchinson’s tools for untangling evaluation terminology:

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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