I spend a lot of my time collaborating with different groups, planning opportunities for communities to interact with scientists, and I’ve developed a slightly frightening habit in the last few months of enthusiastically blurting out, “Let’s use a logic model to plan our next event!” Logic models have become indispensable tools in my professional work because they require articulation of project goals, objectives, activities, resources and expected outcomes. Read on and be prepared to publicly declare your nerd love of this handy planning tool.
What is a logic model?
Many versions of logic models exist and they’re used for a variety of purposes, but generally they’re tools that identify why you’re doing a project, what you’re doing and what you expect to get out of it. For the rest of this post I’ll share their use in the context of planning an event or activity, and from the viewpoint of a scientist who has cannibalized parts of the process that have best fit my needs in project planning with collaborators.
Why use logic models?
If you’re planning with a group, I highly suggest creating a draft logic model before your first meeting, especially if logic models are new to the group. This can be done on Google documents and shared with other members of the planning group. Then members can review the draft and make comments (using different colored font helps track changes) or come to the meeting prepared to discuss the draft. I’ve found this process creates a structure for dialogue that prevents becoming mired in a brainstorm of activities and sets up the group to make decisions more efficiently.
Effective collaborations require identifying the needs and interests of all involved individuals and organizations, and where interests overlap. Identifying partner motivations is not always easy, especially when organizations with different cultures are interacting. Logic models provide a tool for participants to clearly articulate their interests and a way to identify overlapping motivations by crafting large-picture goals and objectives as a group.
Often, people have lots of good ideas for activities to do for events or projects and planning conversations get mired in discussions of possible activities. Decisions about what activities we choose to do for a project result from balancing constraints of available resources and what we’re trying to accomplish. Logic models provide a concrete framework to identify these factors, making decisions about prioritizing or editing activities much easier, especially if the project expands and needs to be called back to a manageable size.
While we hope that our projects go well, how will we know that our event or program was successful? What evidence will we use for grant proposals or reports to demonstrate success? Using logic models ensures that you will know what information you want to collect to document success and help you effectively articulate the impacts of your project.
A logic model for scientists
After a year of helping to plan programs and events as part of my position at SoundCitizen, I finally realized I needed a better set of tools to be able to assess if a project was a success (program evaluation!). I spent a morning with professional evaluator Dr. Andrea Anderson and Dr. Tansy Clay. Andi patiently explained the theory of logic models and their use in planning and evaluation to two unpracticed scientists. The result of that training was this tool – a Logic model for scientists.
How to use “Logic Model for Scientists”
Example of the ‘Logic Model for Scientists’
The first section you should tackle are the goals. The point of this part of the model is to place your program or event in the large picture – as Andi explained them, the goals are the “lofty humdingers.” The grandiose impacts or changes you hope your actions will accomplish. I’m not going to lie – the first time I did this part of the model and even in subsequent use, leading a group through discussing this part feels really odd (especially with scientists) but as the planning moves forward the goals provide critical touchstones that allow you to keep perspective and make decisions based on common goals.
Next, you should identify your objectives. Objectives are the smaller, more specific and measurable goals that will help you achieve your lofty goals. What’s the difference between a goal and objective? While goals are broad and can’t really be validated, objectives are more narrow and concrete. Many agencies and management professionals employ SMART criteria when creating objectives. This means the objectives are:
Figuring out how to create good SMART objectives isn’t easy the first few times, but I guarantee once you’ve had some practice, these objectives are life-savers in keeping planning and group discussions focused and productive. If you’re interested in learning more about setting SMART objectives, here is a handout with diagnostic questions that will give you more information about setting productive objectives.
Activities & Resources
Once your goals and objectives are outlined, you’re ready to start brainstorming the activities that will support accomplishing your objectives. You will likely find yourself going back and forth between identifying activities and considering the resources you have on-hand to accomplish them. I have approached this part of the model by brainstorming possible activities, then editing based on available resources and by evaluating which activities best support accomplishing my objectives.
The outcomes section helps you develop what evidence are you going to look at to determine if you accomplished what you set out to do. Outcomes are extremely valuable for documenting the impact of your activity or event, understanding how you will evaluate what went well and reflecting how things could be changed in future efforts to better accomplish objectives. While it may not always be an appropriate use of your time and energy to create an extensive list with short, mid and long-term outcomes it’s worth spending some time considering outcomes to maximize the benefit from the energy you put into the project.
Amanda Bruner is a Research Scientist & Outreach Coordinator at the University of Washington. Her current position with SoundCitizen is focused on broadening public participation in environmental research.