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THE WISCONSIN IDEA IN ACTION: Pathways of Change: Building Capacity of University of Wisconsin-Extension Educators and Specialists to Conceptualize Program Logic by Samuel Pratsch

My name is Samuel Pratsch and I am proud to say I have been working at the University of Wisconsin-Extension for the past 7 years in program development and evaluation. I was fortunate to work with Ellen Taylor-Powell and I am honored to carry on her legacy working with logic models. Over the years, the University of Wisconsin-Extension has been the go to source for logic model resources; however, and for various reasons, our use and development of logic models internally has failed to live up to our reputation. In Mary Arnold’s 2015 article, “Connecting the Dots: Improving Extension Program Planning with Program Umbrella Models,” she provides a well-reasoned explanation for ways that the University of Wisconsin-Extension can improve on our logical model capacity building work. I agree with many of her ideas.

Lesson Learned:

In my own experiences supporting extension educators and specialists I have noticed that my colleagues had a great understanding of how to fill in the parts of the logic model, and there was an opportunity to increase their awareness of how those parts were connected to one another.

Cool Trick:

In an effort to put the “logic” back into logical models, I have developed an innovative capacity building approach to guide colleagues in making explicit the “pathways of change” for their programs. This approach is focused on increasing knowledge and use of “program logic” and “outcome chains” through a number of hands-on activities. I begin the session with an ice breaker that helps participants think about if/then relationships. We stand in a circle and the first person says an “if” statement and then passes a ball of yarn to someone else while holding on to the string. The next person answers the “if” statement with a “then” statement, which helps encourage thinking about causal relationships.

Next I divide the group into pairs and have them work through a “pathways of change” process. I ask them to write about a change they would like to see happen in the next three years as a result of their program. Then using “forward casting” and/or “backward casting” through a series of if/then statements, I have them sketch out the casual relationships between their activities and intended outcomes of their program. They then review those relationships and look for assumptions and biases in their logic. To date, I have used this approach with a number of different groups at the University of Wisconsin-Extension and in a variety of ways. I have conducted two separate workshops where the focus was on individual programming. I have also used this approach with programmatic teams who wanted to learn more about the theory of change of their collective programming and develop shared measures for their work. I see a lot of potential in this new approach and look forward to building upon it in the future.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating The Wisconsin Idea in Action Week coordinated by the LEAD Center. The LEAD (Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination) Center is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the School of EducationUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison and advances the quality of teaching and learning by evaluating the effectiveness and impact of educational innovations, policies, and practices within higher education. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from student and adult evaluators living in and practicing evaluation from the state of WI. 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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