I Love Logic Models
Probably the biggest surprise of my career is how much I have come to love logic models. Yes, you read that right: I love logic models.
If you're laughing at me right now, know this: I'm laughing, with you! It took me a long time to come around, but I did. I think you might, too. Here's why: logic models can actually be really fun and functional when you think about them as a tool for showcasing relationships within a project. They become even better when you make them visual.
It is important to note that I was bitten by the data visualization and visual communication bug pretty hard. Like many others, I found that visuals often strengthened my work. My deliverables not only became more user-friendly, but users also started to see them as more accessible and relevant. As I ventured further down my path of becoming a bonafide Data Viz champion, I eventually found myself taking on logic models. It started when a client wanted to "dismantle the traditional relationships" between themselves and some new partners. "Very exciting!" my colleague and I thought. ...Until we realized we were also being challenged to rethink traditional approaches to our own practices. Cue logic models turned visual metaphors.
Some of you might know logic models by other names... theories of change, road maps, action plans. Essentially, they're a tool for outlining a project's life-cycle. They often include an overarching project goal, a "need" your project is addressing, audiences you'll be working with or for, deliverables you'll produce, strategies for producing them, outcomes, measures of success, and impacts. You've probably received one as a Word file with a very cramped table in a font size no one can read. If you have one, it is likely stuffed in a project binder, or hidden in a pile of papers on your desk. In their traditional form, logic models tend to be ignored.
The description of logic models above is very linear. It leads one to assume that a project happens in a very neat, sequential way. That is simply not true. Life happens, deadlines slip, one team moves faster than another, a budgets get cut, and despite it all the project comes together in a completely different way than you planned. Logic models can tell an idealized, linear story, or they can tell a more realistic one: that of the various relationships within a project and how activities across the project both in time and in teams impact one another.
When logic models focus on relationships, users suddenly start to see their activities in a new way. In my own experience, users:
- Strengthened alignment between project teams (e.g., between content development for an exhibit and community-based programs);
- Re-conceptualized deliverables in a way that cohesively achieved intended outcomes, rather than having all deliverables try to do everything;
- Gained new appreciation for the work others were doing, and deeper understanding of the activities of one team can impact the activities of a seemingly unrelated team.
While I'm giving a lot of credit to the tool here, I'd be lying if I said making a logic model visual is going to make your project go smoothly. Users have to be involved in the process for the visual metaphor to make sense. You need to work with them to find out what relationships matter to them in the project and why. You need to connect with them to find metaphors that will resonate and to use language that feels familiar. In doing so, you're garnering users' trust in you, your process, and the tool itself. It's just as important to point out that visual metaphors doesn't mean you're not using any words - it just means scaling back the amount of words, focusing on what is critical, and anchoring your words or actions onto something more dynamic than a table.
Also... at the end of the day, you're probably also going to have to create that cramped Word version for "documents' sake." Rather than being the end-all-be-all for how a project moves forward, it becomes the ideal. The visual version is the place where you get to be messy, test ideas out, have fun, and then decide what you're working towards. Over time, the two will start to align in a pretty cool, authentic way.
Logic Models: 101
Hone in on your audience
Who is actually using this tool? Who are you telling your project's story to? Logic models for practitioners look a bit different from logic models for senior staff or funders. Tell your story to your primary audience.
Think about the players
Who is involved in achieving this vision? Who is in your primary audience, and who isn't? What relationships currently exist or need to exist?
Find the overlap
Looking across the players, think about who talks to each other, and who doesn't. Who holds the conversations and why? How do these roles and conversations change over time?
Here is an example from the Data Visualization and Reporting Workshop at this year's Visitor Studies Association conference, which I facilitated with Lauren Wilson and Claire Thoma Emmons.
This workshop aimed to empower practitioners with new resources and skills to pursue their own visual communication goals. This metaphor was used to communicate the purpose of our workshop, strategies we employed, and what we hoped participants would get from it. It has a text-only version, too (unpictured).