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Logic Models: Tips & Lessons Learned

December 21, 2017

The great Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to know when you get there?” A logic model is a tool that helps public and nonprofit organizations clarify their destination in terms of impact, and serves as a road map articulating how program activities lead to desired results. Developing a simple and straightforward logic model can help you clarify programmatic priorities, streamline data collection efforts, and make communication about impact even clearer. Logic models provide a picture of how your organization works and the key assumptions underlying program or project design, and typically have two overarching sections:

  1. Planned Work. Planned work describes the resources you need to implement your program or project and what you plan to do.
  2. Intended Results. These are the program’s desired results: the direct product of activities (outputs), short- and medium-term outcomes, and long-term impact.  

Over the years, ImpactED has helped dozens of organizations develop strong logic models. Here, we’ve compiled key considerations for designing a logic model for your program, project, campaign, or initiative.

Use logic models to build shared understanding and investment. Oftentimes, external evaluators build organization’s logic models for them, which is a missed opportunity. Creating a logic model is a powerful way to build investment and shared understanding of impact within your team, and with external stakeholders. Additionally, consider how your program logic model fits into the broader organizational theory of change. Several organizations ImpactED has worked with have noted the importance – and challenge – of aligning the work of any single program’s logic model with their organization’s overall theory of change. We recommend:

  • Highlighting the parts of your theory of change and strategic plan that are influenced by a particular program logic model to ensure alignment.
  • Encouraging other members of your organization to create logic models for additional programs or projects.
  • Incorporating the logic model way of thinking (i.e., linking resources to short-term goals to long-term impact) into organizational conversations.

Work backwards, focus on change, and develop key program pathways. Start by considering your ultimate desired impact. Ensure your outcomes and impact start with action verbs. What will change as a result of your program/project/initiative? Next, work backwards to ensure alignment throughout the entire logic model.

Be sure to consider connections between the different aspects of your program and group accordingly. For example, certain activities may combine to lead to specific short- and long-term outcomes. Oftentimes, logic models have various pathways of impact aligned to elements of the program’s design.

Finally, don’t forget the mechanism of change. This South Park clip about the underpants gnomes provides a funny – and relatable – example of what often happens when organizations create a logic model. Organizations typically start by developing short-term outcomes (for example, tracking a change in knowledge resulting from a program) and then expect that these short-term outcomes will lead to their long-term outcomes (for example, a change in decisions or status). But they forget the mechanism of change (or the medium-term outcomes!). We recommend thinking about change over time as follows:

  • Short-term: Knowledge learned or attitudes.
  • Medium-term: Skill to execute on what was learned and behavioral change.
  • Long-term: Sustained changes in decision-making or status.

Surface assumptions and conditions. Logic models can surface assumptions undergirding your program or organizational design. As you move from one stage of the logic model to the next, consider what needs to be in place to ensure the connection/change occurs. Building a logic model is an iterative process. As you develop outcomes, revisit your list of resources to ensure you have the necessary supports to realize the desired change. Ask yourself: Are the resources sufficient to conduct the activities and produce the necessary outputs? Are the outputs sufficient to lead to the outcomes? What assumptions are we making about the quality of outputs or the conditions surrounding them? Are the outcomes sufficient to produce the desired impact?

Distinguish between outputs (what you do) and outcomes (the impact of what you do). This distinction can be challenging. Outputs capture implementation fidelity; they tell you the extent to which you did what you set out to do as articulated in your activities. Outputs capture things like the number of users, the number of trainings, or the number of social media followers. While these are important goals, they are not outcomes. Outcomes reflect the change that should result from whatever is implemented. When determining outcomes, consider participant/stakeholder/or constituent:

  • Knowledge or attitudes resulting from participation in your program.
  • Skill to execute on what was learned and behavioral change because of the program.
  • Sustained changes in decision-making or status because of the program.

Recognize that this is a process. As a program grows and develops, so does its logic model. Use data to continually test your assumptions and refine your logic model when necessary. Many organizations ImpactED has worked with have asked how to incorporate ongoing data collection and an evolving understanding of stakeholders’ needs into their logic model. We recommend:

  • Making research and data collection a key activity in the logic model.
  • Setting times throughout the year to revisit the logic model based on new data to make revisions/additions as necessary.

Finally, check out the following resources for developing and refining an effective logic model:


Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829