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Tools for Program Design

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

By Dr. Patricia Moore Shaffer

Theory of change and logic modeling are tools that program managers and evaluators often use to describe a program’s design or, simply put, how an educational program is supposed to work. A theory of change allows us to understand the underlying hypotheses of a program by illustrating the program’s outcomes pathway – the activities understood to produce a series of results that contribute to achieving the desired change. A logic model, meanwhile, gives more clarity about the components (i.e., inputs) that need to be in place for the program to work; it also includes visual depictions of how the planned activities will result in specific outputs or products, and outcomes.

At Shaffer Evaluation Group, we often do theory of change and logic modeling exercises in the early phases of an evaluation or capacity-building project to help program stakeholders articulate how their program works. When we worked with Valencia College evaluating its Art of Tomorrow Scholars program, we engaged a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including staff, beneficiaries, partners, and funders, in the development of these models. In addition to producing valuable tools to guide program design, development, and evaluation, stakeholders participating in this process increase their knowledge and understanding of the program. Very often this process leads stakeholders to a fresh perspective on their programs that may lead to changes in program design.

When we engage stakeholders in developing a theory of change or logic model for a program, we keep in mind principles of adult learning to make the experience meaningful and engaging for everyone involved:

  • Adults want or need to be involved in how our learning experiences are planned and delivered. We consult with stakeholders about how to organize program model development work. Do they want to organize a day-long retreat or a series of short meetings with interspersed independent group work?

  • Adults draw upon our own knowledge and experience when learning. Stakeholders have rich knowledge of how their program works in their community – we facilitate discussion and use other methods of engagement to tap into this knowledge during model development work.

  • Adults are active learners, preferring to use reasoning and collaboration to find solutions. We actively engage stakeholders in model development – assigning backwards mapping exercises or small group projects to identify program inputs, outputs, or outcomes.

  • Adults want learning activities to be immediately applicable to our lives or work. We take the time to demonstrate how theories and models can be applied to improve programs’ effectiveness.

One resource we use is ActKnowledge’s Facilitator Source Book for Leading Theory of Change Development Sessions, which provides guidance on leading collaborative sessions to craft long-term outcomes and use “backwards mapping” to identify the earliest changes that need to occur. The Logic Model Workshop Toolkit, prepared by the REL Northeast & Islands, provides guidance for facilitating a logic model workshop; resources include a facilitator workbook, a participant workbook, and a slide deck.


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