What is a logic model?
A visualization of why and how your program works
A logic model is a powerful organizing tool for a program or project. You can think of a logic model as a visual representation of your program theory. A logic model:
- Tells the story of why and how your program works
- Displays program elements and their relationships with short, intermediate, and long-term outcomes
- Shows direction and flow between these components
A road map
You can also think of the logic model as a road map that connects your inputs (resources you can commit to the programming effort) to the long-term outcomes you are aiming for.
Along the way, you implement activities, which produce outputs (measurable services or products) and short-term outcomes (such as changes in participant knowledge or beliefs). If the logic in your model is sound, these short-term outcomes will lead to intermediate and ultimately long-term outcomes in service of a larger goal.
Why create a logic model?
Logic models take time and effort. What makes it worth it?
- Achieving desired outcomes: By creating a logic model, you keep your focus on outcomes and clarify your thinking about how to reach your goal. The model will help prevent misalignment between activities and outcomes. There's always a temptation to jump to the activities or strategies we feel most comfortable with
- Evaluation: Logic models incorporate planning, implementation, and evaluation. They jumpstart our evaluation process by making it clear why we are doing what we are doing, what we will measure along the way, and what our expected outcomes are.
- Communication: Logic models help us understand for ourselves and express to others why we are doing what we are doing.
For these reasons, many funders require program planners to create logic models.
Developing a Logic Model
There are a couple of ways to build a logic model — you can start with the very big picture (the long-term outcomes) and move backward, or you can move forward from your activities.
Because many funding sources specify long-term outcomes but leave the details of planning activities to each individual program, it may make the most sense to start by working backward when developing a logic model. You can then flesh out and revisit the logic by moving forward.
Step 1: Find the logic in existing documents
Even if you have not yet created a logic model for your program, you have already been thinking a lot about this! What do you already know about your program model? A first step is to identify documents where you have already described your thinking. The funding announcement and your proposal are good places to start. You may have descriptions of the project you can draw from.
Now, you need to kind of decode these materials to find the logical structure, the connections between activities and outcomes. A tip here is to look for parts of speech. Verbs (like teach or support) often describe your activities. Adjectives (like improved or higher) can help you find intended effects or outcomes. Sometimes you might need to decode vague language, or you might find big leaps in logic, but these existing sources can really help identify some of the expected links between activities and outcomes.
It is also helpful to look at existing research. What does research literature say about your program activities and your desired outcomes? Are there already established research links here? Research can help in a couple of ways: If we have identified a particular outcome but we are not sure of the specific activities we should conduct to achieve those same outcomes, previous studies may give us ideas. And, if we have already determined the activities we will implement, research can help us understand the outcomes we should expect from those activities.
Step 2: Determine the scope of the model
Next, we need to determine the scope of the logic model. The key is to remember we want to make it useful, but simple. Consider who will use this model, and how they will use it; this will help determine the right amount of detail to use. Keep in mind you might want to create different logic models, with varying degrees of detail or a shift in focus, for different audiences. Logic models can be as simple or complex as you want. You just need to balance the level of detail with its intended purpose.
Step 3: Check the logic
Finally, you need to check the logic!
The first question to ask is, does the logic model make sense? Does it contain big leaps of faith or does it show change through a logical sequence of effects? Does it make sense that your long-term outcomes follow from your intermediate and short-term outcomes? Is it reasonable to think your activities will lead to these short-term outcomes?
Then, consider — is the model complete? Are crucial changes identified? (This might help you think about the scope of the model, too, if you're debating what level of detail to include).
Have you identified the necessary raw materials? Have you considered the inputs, resources, and infrastructure needed to implement these activities?
Are the activities clearly identified? This is the real drama of your story: who will do what, when, and with whom? The outputs are indicators these activities have been completed. Do the outputs you have specified flow logically from the activities and connect logically to the short-term outcomes you have identified?
Then, try it out! Consider really walking through the logic model, using a thought experiment to test the logic and see where it might fail. Include others in these simulations so you can discuss the logic (or lack of logic) in the connections you have made in the model. If needed, revise the logic model — you might have found gaps or illogical connections during this check.
Be sure to revisit the logic model over time, particularly as you start collecting evaluation data — does the logic hold up? Do we need to change planned activities to achieve our desired outcomes?
The resources below provide more detail and guidance for your logic model journey!
Developing a Logic Model or Theory of Change
The content of this ACT for Youth page is adapted from The Community Tool Box. Visit The Community Tool Box for a deeper dive. Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas.
Program Planning: Build a Logic Model
Using youth development programming examples, this presentation describes how to develop a logic model. The Logic Model Tool can be used in the program planning process. ACT for Youth.
This resource on creating logic models uses the promotion of adolescent sexual health as an example. Healthy Teen Network.