What is a logic model and why is it important?A logic model is a one-page word diagram or idea map that illustrates how a program influences its participants to achieve sustainable life changes. If you haven't worked with logic models or want a refresher on the basics, here's an introduction.
When should a logic model be used?
A logic model can be useful for different purposes in the life of a program. For example:
Program design stage
People with different interests and perspectives can create a logic model together to envision what a program might look like and what it might accomplish.
At this stage, it's important to remember that a program can influence only those people who are enrolled in the program. Realistically, your program isn't likely to end the systemic injustices that create the community's need for the program in the first place — but it can equip participants to succeed in the face of those systemic influences.
It's also good practice to consider any unintended negative consequences that could happen as a result of implementing the program. This reflection can lead to a stronger program design that stops you from causing harm where you intended to help.
Program planning stage
Program leaders can use a logic model to outline the specific resources needed to operate the program as well as communicate the program design to potential funders and partners.
Program implementation stage
Program stakeholders can use a logic model to align a program with the organization's mission and strategy and to prepare to gather data on program implementation.
Program improvement stage
Program stakeholders can use a logic model to prepare to gather data on participant progress and outcomes and to analyze it to improve the program. The logic model can also serve as a key foundation for external program evaluation.
Is a logic model right for every program?
A logic model shows how a program is designed to work for the benefit of its participants. As such, logic models aren't a good fit for mapping programs that deliver services without accountability for changing people's lives — such as food banks or some shelters or recreational programs.
What does a logic model include?
A basic logic model should include a concise description of the following five components:
- Participants. Participants are the people a program is designed to support. Participants are defined by demographics and circumstances.
- Inputs. Inputs are the resources required by a program, such as staff, volunteers, program supplies, curricula, money, administration, facilities, partnerships, staff training and support.
- Activities. In a logic model, activities refer to the quantity, quality and length of specific activities and relationships needed to engage participants and help them achieve specific outcomes. This includes enrollment, engagement, program requirements, relationships between staff or volunteers and participants, and any necessary quality standards. The term "codified activities" refers to a theory about how much of which activities are needed to help your population achieve outcomes.
- Outputs. Outputs are usually defined as the number of participants who enroll in, attend and complete a program.
- Outcomes. Outcomes are measurable, meaningful changes in the people, organizations or communities that a program serves. Initial outcomes (knowledge, skills, values, attitudes) lead to intermediate outcomes (changes in behavior, milestones) which, in turn, lead to long-term outcomes (new life condition). Long-term outcomes take place no more than one to two years after program completion.
More complex logic models may include a depiction of the community and any organizational contexts or influences outside the program itself. Other logic models show the feedback loop of learning that results from evaluating program data.
What are the characteristics of an effective logic model?
The strongest logic models:
- Focus on a single program participant
- Include meaningful outcomes logically related to program activities
- Show the amount and duration of specific program activities needed for the full sequence of outcomes
- Reflect diverse stakeholder voices
- Provide an appropriate amount of detail using clear, concise language
What are some examples of strong logic models?
Logic models can be presented using many different formats. Aside from the same core elements — participants, inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes — no two logic models look exactly alike. Among many others, consider these examples provided by University of Wisconsin-Extension:
- Community Nutrition Education Program
- Water Quality Program
- Technology and Safety
- Developing Youth Leaders
United Way: Measuring program outcomes: A practical approach
W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Logic Model Development Guide
University of Wisconsin-Extension: Logic models
The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox by Robert Penna