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Logic Model & Theory of Change: What's The Difference and When to Use Which

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As someone working in international development or social impact, you've probably heard the phrases "logic model" and "theory of change" tossed around like they're going out of style. But do you really know the key differences between these two tools?

If you're a little fuzzy on the details, no worries. By the end of this post, you'll be a pro at distinguishing logic models from theories of change and knowing exactly when to use each one.

What's a Logic Model?

At its core, a logic model is like a visual storyboard that maps out the logical connections between the different components of your project or program. It lays out the resources and activities you'll use (the inputs and activities), what you'll directly produce (the outputs), the immediate changes you expect to see (the outcomes), and the ultimate, long-term impact you're striving for.

Logic Model

Example of a Logic Model

Think of a logic model as zooming in on the nitty-gritty operational details of how your specific intervention will unfold and lead to results. It answers questions like "What are we doing?", "What will we accomplish?" and "How will our activities lead to the desired outcomes?"

A logic model is great for programme planning, monitoring implementation, and evaluating to see if you're on track. It helps ensure tight alignment between your activities and intended outcomes, avoiding any gaps or misalignment in your theory of how change will occur.

What's a Theory of Change (ToC)?

While a logic model focuses on the programmatic nuts and bolts, a theory of change (ToC) takes a step back to look at the bigger picture. A ToC unpacks and articulates the underlying assumptions about how and why a desired change is expected to happen within a particular context.

Rather than just showing a programmes's sequence of activities and results, a ToC digs deeper to map out all the complex pathways, preconditions, and causal linkages required for that long-term, transformative change to actually take root and be sustainable. It explores questions like "What needs to happen for lasting change to occur?" and "What barriers or enablers exist in this context?"

Theory of Change

Example of a Theory of Change

So while a logic model illustrates the implementation chain for a specific intervention, a theory of change provides a more holistic explanation of an initiative's overall change strategy and the key assumptions underpinning it.

ToCs are invaluable for strategic planning, surfacing potential risks or blindspots, aligning stakeholders, and evaluating systemic, root cause changes.

What are the Similiarities?

There are some similarities between logic models and theories of change. They both have a casual results chain where the inputs lead to activities, outputs, outcomes and the end goal. They are both visually represented as flowcharts. Likewise, they are both used for programme planning. Despite this, there are key differences.

Key Differences Between Logic Models and Theories of Change

  1. Scope. Logic Models focus on the specific programme or intervention, while Theories of Change take a broader view, considering the larger system and context.

  2. Focus. Logic Models emphasise the process, whereas ToCs focus on the rationale and assumptions behind the change.

  3. Purpose: Logic Models are primarily used for programme monitoring. ToCs are strategic tools that help understand broader contexts and guide transformative change.

When to Use Which Tool

Now that we've covered the key distinctions, here are some general guidelines on when to use a logic model vs theory of change:

Use a Logic Model when:

  • Planning and managing a specific programme/project

  • Communicating how your activities will lead to results

  • Monitoring implementation and evaluating outcomes

  • Identifying potential gaps in your operational plan

  • Your project or intervention is straighforward (e.g. a one day beach cleaning exercise)

Use a Theory of Change when:

  • Designing an initiative to create transformative, systemic change

  • Unpacking assumptions about how and why change will occur

  • Mapping complex change pathways across multiple conditions

  • Aligning stakeholders on an overarching change strategy

  • Evaluating root cause shifts in behaviors, norms, policies, etc.

The bottom line? Logic models are awesome for diving into the finer details of your project's implementation. Theories of change take that balcony view of your strategic changemaking approach.

The next time you're feeling fuzzy on which tool is the right fit, refer back to this guide.

I will go deeper at our webinar on Logic models on June 26, 2024. This event is free for Academy members.


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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

Monitoring, Evaluation and
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