Getting the most out of program logic models

Getting the most out of program logic models

Case studies of how program logic can be used

Kerry Haynes, Shae Johnson

AIFS Evidence and Evaluation Support resource – December 2021
A group of business people sit in a row in a training class. They look at an unseen speaker as they concentrate on the lecture.

This resource illustrates the benefits of developing a program logic model by describing how two Families and Children (FaC) Activity funded programs used program logic to facilitate program planning, evaluation and communication. Comments from the program managers are included in the case studies to highlight their views.

These programs received Extended Helpdesk Support offered by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS); this trial gave FaC service providers up to 20 hours of support in program planning and evaluation. Both programs received support in program logic but had differing needs: one used program logic primarily to refine program components, the other used program logic to develop an evaluation plan.

What is program logic?

A program logic model is a visual representation of how a program is intended to work, including the intended causal links. It sets out the resources and activities that comprise the program, and the changes that are expected to result from them. There are many different types of program logic models. The key elements are inputs, outputs and outcomes (short-, medium- and long-term).

Get further information about program logic models, including how to develop them.

Program logic models can be used in different ways, including:

  • helping to refine program activities and outputs and showing how they will lead to desired program outcomes
  • providing a framework for evaluating a program by identifying what outputs and outcomes should be measured to determine if the program is working as intended
  • using the model as a tool to communicate with stakeholders about your program’s objectives, activities and what it is meant to achieve. This can be very useful for communicating with those responsible for current or potential sources of funding.

Not only is the visual representation of a program in the form of a logic model useful in program planning, evaluation and communication, the process of developing a program logic can also be beneficial. Working on a program logic with your key stakeholders, either internal or external to the organisation, can help you to get agreement about key program elements and anticipated outcomes. It can also facilitate a common language about the program and build a shared understanding of how the program will work.

Our first case study shows how developing a program logic model helped one service clarify and articulate their understanding of program activities and what they wanted the program to achieve.

Case study 1: Tangentyere Strong Parents, Strong Kids, Strong Communities

Strong Parents, Strong Kids, Strong Communities (SPSKSC) is a specialised family violence program run by Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs. The overarching aim of the program is to increase the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children, families and communities who have experienced domestic and family violence. Under the guidance of community leaders, SPSKSC undertakes culturally safe activities that encourage strong and safe parenting. The SPSKSC team collaborates with other relevant services operating at Tangentyere to deliver the program.

SPSKSC is a new program. At the time the AIFS team started working with them in 2021, the program had recently employed a project officer and program activities were being developed. The program manager requested assistance with outcomes measures and evaluation. A series of meetings were held to explore what was needed. The development of a program logic model was recommended as the first step. The outputs and outcomes listed in the model could then be used to draft an evaluation plan. Most of the meetings were attended by the program manager, the project officer and an experienced researcher who could assist with the evaluation on an ongoing basis.

The discussions at these workshops helped to clarify program aims, activities and possible outcomes amongst SPSKSC team members. The AIFS team facilitated the discussion, using the development of a program logic model as a visual representation of agreed program components; that is, what the key program activities would be (outputs) and what the program intended to achieve in the short-, medium- and long-term (outcomes). Colour coding was used to indicate which activities were expected to result in which outcomes.

The program logic discussions helped the SPSKSC team to gain insight into what the program could realistically achieve within the available time frame and budget.

I found developing the program logic very useful and learnt a lot about outputs and outcomes. I realised, after discussion with the AIFS team, that our aspirations were somewhat lofty and needed to be made more simple and achievable. For example, while ‘stopping family violence in Aboriginal Town Camp communities’ is certainly an aspiration, this is not necessarily realistic for one program alone. After discussions we decided to change our goal to ‘Families and communities have strengthened connections and feel strong and safe together’, which is much more achievable.

Two workshops were needed to develop the program logic model. Following each workshop, the model was further refined by the AIFS team in conjunction with the SPSKSC team. At the second workshop, the program logic model was reviewed to ensure the SPSKSC team was satisfied with it. Discussions then commenced about how the documented outputs and outcomes could be measured.

Several months after the workshops, the SPSKSC program manager commented:

The program logic has been a very practical and helpful tool and has been particularly useful to monitor the ongoing continuous improvement of our program, and to achieving both short- and long-term goals.

It can also be used as a tool to check-in with our Community leaders to ensure that they continue to be happy with the direction the program is going in.

Our second case study illustrates how program logic can be used to facilitate evaluation planning.

Case study 2: Parents Beyond Breakup

The Parents Beyond Breakup (PBB) program is a national service that supports parents experiencing trauma related to family breakdown and separation. It also has a focus on suicide prevention. PBB provides support through a telephone support helpline, weekly peer group support meetings, online forums and local ‘one to one’ mentors.

The PBB team had already developed a program logic model and saw it as an important strategic tool but required support from AIFS to select outcomes that could be measured in an evaluation.

Program logic provides clear direction and alignment for our internal teams as well as providing a simple visual tool for external stakeholders to see why we exist.

During discussions between PBB and AIFS staff it was decided that the existing program logic model could be used as a tool to guide the selection of outcomes. At the first meeting, the model was reviewed, and revisions made, to ensure the documented outcomes were logical and measurable.

… we got to host a number of workshops with our teams and in doing so, we learnt a lot about our organisation, why we are important to our clients and most importantly, what is included in our program versus what is excluded from our program.

Using the program logic model, PBB staff worked with the AIFS team to select the short- and medium-term outcomes that would be most beneficial for the organisation to measure at this time. It was not possible to measure all the outcomes at once so the outcomes that were seen as particularly important and were common to several PBB activities were selected. The visual depiction of the program activities and their related outcomes in the program logic model facilitated this selection process.

A suitable validated measure of the outcomes was identified and questions from this tool were incorporated into a survey for program participants (the complete tool was not used due to its length and the irrelevance of some questions).

Questions related to selected domains of the Department of Social Services’ Data Exchange Standard Client/Community Outcomes reporting tool (DEX SCORE) were also incorporated into the survey.

Drawing on the revised program logic model, and with support from the AIFS team, PBB were able to start collecting data for their evaluation in a relatively short time.

Several months later the program manager commented:

Our program logic model is mostly used to enhance the services we offer and to improve client outcomes over time. It is a key internal training tool, and the logic model is the theory that underpins the outcomes for our clients. When used as an evaluation tool, we are able to measure our own performance as well as closely analyse the outcomes our clients are experiencing by engaging with PBB.

We would recommend having an independent person or organisation (such as AIFS) critique your program logic in order to truly have that arm’s length assessment of a program before sharing it externally with your key stakeholders.

In summary

Developing a program logic model can have many benefits: from improved understanding of what a program is intending to achieve to gaining agreement amongst stakeholders. How it is used is dependent on the stage of program development and organisational needs.

Support is available from AIFS

Need help with your program logic?

Please contact us at FaC_evidence_evaluation@aifs.gov.au.

Authors and acknowledgements

Featured image: © GettyImages/SDI Productions

Publication details

AIFS Evidence and Evaluation Support resource
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2021

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