Theory of Change (ToC) or Logic Model? Given how both frameworks are used for the same purpose, it could be a difficult choice to make. However, if you know their unique attributes, their similarities and differences, it might make your decision making process a bit easier.
Both ToCs and logic models are widely popular and have been around for decades but neither term is clearly defined in the international development literature. Some say it’s okay to use these terms interchangeably as both are used to demonstrate how activities lead to results, whereas others say they are different in terms of structure, approach, rationale and usage.
Also, there is no set structure or rule to develop either of the two frameworks. Although they must include some key project components, there is also room for flexibility, both in terms of the process of developing them and the look of the final product. In this article, we will explore some similarities and differences between these two much debated approaches in Monitoring and Evaluation.
Before we jump into the main discussion, let us clarify some project related terms that we will be referring throughout the article.
What is a Logic Model?
The logic model approach was introduced in the 1970s as a programme design methodology for USAID, capturing essential programme elements in a single table. It was developed with an intention to improve the planning, implementation, management and monitoring and evaluation of projects. By the late 1980s, this model had become a requirement for funding of most international development programs.
Logic Models are often referred to as Logical Frameworks or Logframes. Logic models operate at the project or program level and it describes in a concrete way, how your project or program will create the desired change. Like most other frameworks, these are flexible and evolving – you can easily create one based on your current understanding of the project components and revise it as you go along.
The structure of a logic model is quite standardized – it is logical, sequential, to the point and has a simple linear chart format. It could be displayed as a matrix or as a flow chart. A logic model is visually engaging as it clearly illustrates the basic project components in the chart, which makes it easier for stakeholders to identify project inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts. In other words, through these components, indicators and milestones, the chart triggers questions to help everyone involved in the project to think about what they’re doing, what they hope to achieve and what they need to do to get all the important stuff done.
Some drawbacks of using a Logic Model
But some experts point out that a logic model could be quite limited and too simplistic in its scope and approach as it only zooms in on one specific pathway that your program deals with, meaning, it only points out activity A leads to outcome B, leaving out the possibilities of having additional outcomes, other than just outcome B. Therefore, there is limited flexibility and little room for the emergence of unexpected outcomes within a logic model. Moreover, it fails to explain the “Whys” – why activity A is expected to cause outcome B. Additionally, some experts also point out that a logic model often does not show the bigger impact of an intervention or the evidence that something has been achieved.
Here’s an example of a Logic Model
Let’s assume that our organisation has developed a project to implement in ‘Community A.’ Our overall project goal is to improve the sexual health of the community members. Let’s look at how we can show the relationships between our goal, outcomes and activities in a logic model.
This is a simplified version of a Logic Model. Depending on the nature of your project and the preference of your organization, the complexity and forms of logic models may differ.
What is a Theory of Change (ToC)?
When talking about theory of change, we like to kick off with M&E expert, Piroska Bisits’ definition of the concept.
According to the experts, theory of change seems to have emerged from the field of theory-driven evaluation, which came to prominence in the 1990’s. A ToC is best described as a flow chart or a web diagram that goes beyond a simplistic input-outcome notion of evaluation and seeks to demonstrate through all possible pathways how and why an intervention is assumed to lead to a desired end-result or a long-term impact.
Like a logic model or a results framework, a ToC is also a tool used to design and evaluate projects by mapping out the logical sequence of an initiative from goals, inputs, activities to outcomes but comparatively ToC is a much more comprehensive methodology which shows a bigger and often messier picture.
While demonstrating the connection between activities and outcomes, ToC also uses narratives to depict issues within a project that you can and cannot control. It articulates how change happens in the wider context, including the culture and power relations in which a specific project will take place; clarifies the organisation’s role in contributing to change, and defines and tests critical assumptions about behaviour, causal relations and contexts and as much as possible and supports these assumptions by evidence. A ToC is often used by organisations working in multiple sectors and in different thematic areas on complex projects or programs.
Some drawbacks of using a Theory of Change (ToC)
Compared to other approaches, a ToC requires vast amounts of data, greater time investment, deeper critical reflection, logical thinking and frequent exchange of dialogue amongst colleagues and stakeholders. It also requires an honest approach to answer difficult questions and identify assumptions and hypotheses about how your efforts might influence change, given the social and political circumstances, uncertainties and complexities that surround the initiatives.
Hypothesis and assumptions are unique attributes of ToCs and these really help the team members to sketch out a broader picture of their intervention, however, when there’s too many assumptions, it could also cause a lot of confusion and could lead the team in many different directions. Many critics point out that due to ToC’s theory driven nature, it is sometimes unclear whether a ToC evaluates the program itself or the program’s underlying theory.
Here’s an example of a Theory of Change (ToC)
Taking the same scenario from our previous logic model example, we have created this simplified version of a Theory of Change. You will notice how a ToC is much more complex and detailed than a logic model.
This is a simplified version of a theory of change. Depending on the nature of your project and the preference of your organization, the complexity and forms of ToCs may differ.
Similarities between Theory of Change (ToC) and Logic Model
We have already seen how ToCs and logic models use slightly different approaches, but if you look deeper you will notice that there is also significant overlap between these two models. Both are used to improve our value-for-money, both are tied to an organisation’s overarching mission and both rest on a foundation of logic – specifically, the logic of how change happens. Let’s explore some common features.
- Both are used for planning, monitoring and evaluation of projects.
- Both can greatly improve project design and outcomes.
- Both identify the main components of the project (inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes) and demonstrate the relationship between these elements to acknowledge and implement all of the steps it will take to deliver the results you want to see in the world.
- Both frameworks enable you to measure, track and quantify your progress and your impact.
- Both help you identify and explain why your strategy is a good solution to the problem at hand.
- Both are generally represented in the form of visual charts, graphs and diagrams.
- Both Logframe and ToC are outcome-focused – it answers the question, “what do you want to accomplish?
- Both depend on a set of assumptions about why these strategies should make a difference in the desired outcomes.
- Both are grounded in your analysis of what it takes to create the change, and your understanding of why conditions are as they are now.
- With both models, project members can identify intermediate effects and define measurable indicators for them. But you must note that some logic models may not include indicators, it depends on a case by case basis.
- Both help to communicate your interventions and outcomes more effectively to your team, donors, stakeholders and local beneficiaries.
- Both models enhance accountability by keeping stakeholders focused on outcomes.
- Both need to be regularly updated to reflect the project changes over time.
Differences between Theory of Change (ToC) and Logic Model
Like we mentioned above both ToC and Logic Model are tools used to describe how programs lead to results, however, if we dive deeper, we will notice the differences in terms of their structure, approach, rationale and usage. Here’s a list of features unique to each model.
Theory of Change
It illustrates project components (project goals, activities, outputs, inputs, risks, assumptions and short and medium term outcomes) in one clear and specific pathway, and takes a narrow and practical look at the relationship between these elements. The risks and assumptions stated in a logic model are usually only basic and are not backed up by evidence for why you think one thing will lead to another.
The question used in developing this framework is – if we plan to do activity A, then will that produce outcome B?
ToC shows the big messy picture and takes a wide view of a desired change or long-term impact – carefully examining and thinking through each activity, input, output and outcome, issues that you can and can’t control and preconditions that will enable or inhibit each step. ToC probes assumptions behind each step and demonstrates all possible pathways that lead to the desired change or impact and provides evidence for how and why you think certain activity will cause the certain change.
While developing a ToC, we ask – if we do activity A then outcome B will take place because…
How do you know which model is right for you?
When it comes to picking a model, it’s not an easy task, especially when both theory of change and logic models are used for the same purpose and both models help you understand how your initiatives will bring about changes and the results you expect to see for the community and its people.
So, the answer to this question is – it really depends on your organisation’s preference and capacity. The complexity of your intervention, and most importantly the willingness to commit a certain amount of time or otherwise, and the availability of resources, skills and knowledge within your organisation could also influence your choice. Some organisations may even opt for both, given the size and scope of their interventions. But no matter which approach you choose to go with, the aim of using models as such should be to keep all the staff members and stakeholders moving in the same direction by providing a common language and point of reference.
We hope this article was helpful. Please let us know if you have any points to add to the list or any comments or suggestions to share. Also, we’d love to know which framework your organisation uses to plan, monitor and evaluate projects.