Did You Know: The Distinction Between Logic Models and Theories of Change by Roxanne Jensen, Ed.S., GPC

In the realm of program planning, evaluation, and development, two widely used tools are logic models and theories of change. While both are valuable for understanding and guiding interventions, they differ significantly in their approaches and purposes. Let’s examine the main distinctions between a logic model and a theory of change by exploring their characteristics and providing practical examples to illustrate their applications.

The primary difference between a logic model and theory of change lies in their approach and level of explanation. A logic model outlines a coherent sequence, indicating the intended outcomes of an intervention: If X is provided, the result will be Y. In contrast, a theory of change goes beyond this by incorporating causal mechanisms, explaining why each intervention component is expected to lead to the desired outcomes: If X is provided, Z will support (or hinder) the achievement of Y. While logic models may include a section for contextual factors and assumptions, these details are often lacking or omitted altogether within each part of the model. Conversely, a theory of change explicitly considers these factors throughout the model. Consequently, a logic model is primarily descriptive, whereas a theory of change is explanatory.

Logic Models:

A logic model is a visual representation or framework that outlines the logical sequence of an intervention, program, or project. It depicts the relationship between inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes in a linear and cause-effect manner. A logic model typically answers the question: “If we do X, what results (Y) can we expect?”

Components of a Logic Model:

  • Inputs: These are the resources necessary to implement the program.
  • Activities: These are the activities which will take place to achieve the goal.
  • Outputs: Outputs measure the planned activities in terms of quantity and quality.
  • Outcomes: Outcomes describe the anticipated benefits or changes from the programming. Outcomes are worded using a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) format.
  • Impact: This describes what you ultimately want to change.

Example of a Logic Model:

Let’s consider a school-based anti-bullying program:

  • Inputs: Trained staff, educational materials, and funding
  • Activities: Conduct workshops, provide counseling sessions, and distribute educational resources
  • Outputs: Number of workshops conducted, counseling sessions held, and materials distributed
  • Outcomes: Reduced incidents of bullying, improved student well-being, and a safer school environment
  • Impact: Sustained reduction in bullying incidents. The program leads to a significant and lasting decrease in bullying incidents, creating a safer and more inclusive school environment.

Theories of Change:

A theory of change, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive and explanatory approach to program planning and evaluation. It delves into the underlying causal mechanisms and assumptions that connect inputs, activities, and outcomes. In a theory of change, each intervention component is justified by explaining why it is expected to lead to the intended outcomes.

Components of a Theory of Change:

  • Inputs and Activities: Similar to the logic model, a theory of change considers the resources and actions required for the intervention.
  • Intermediate Outcomes: These are the changes that occur after the activities but before the final outcomes. They help establish a causal chain.
  • Causal Mechanisms: This element describes the cause-and-effect relationships between the intermediate outcomes and the final outcomes.
  • Assumptions: The theory of change includes explicit assumptions about the context and external factors that influence the intervention’s success.

Example of a Theory of Change:

Continuing with the school-based anti-bullying program example above:

  • Inputs and Activities: Same as in the logic model example.
  • Intermediate Outcomes: Increased awareness of bullying behaviors, enhanced empathy among students, and improved conflict resolution skills.
  • Causal Mechanisms: The program assumes that by promoting awareness, empathy, and conflict resolution skills, students will be less likely to engage in bullying behaviors and create a safer environment.
  • Assumptions: The program assumes that there is adequate support from school administration and that the program aligns with the school’s values and culture.

In summary, the main difference between a logic model and a theory of change lies in their level of detail and explanatory power. While a logic model primarily presents a linear progression from inputs to outcomes, a theory of change offers a deeper understanding of how and why the program is expected to bring about the desired change(s). Both tools have their place in program planning and evaluation. The choice between them depends on the specific needs and objectives of the intervention at hand as well as what may be required by a grantor.

To learn more about logic models, check out AGS’ series of on-demand training about logic models: Logic Model Training Series

To get a better understanding of the distiction between logic models and theory of change, access AGS’s training: Logic Model and Theory of Change Training

AGS blogs, funding alerts, and trainings are aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills

Competency #3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development

Skill 3.4. Identify structures, values, and applications of logic models as they relate to elements of project design

Skill 3.5. Identify appropriate definitions of and interrelationships among elements of project design (e.g., project goals, objectives, activities, evaluation)

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