Choosing a Framework to Help Plan Your Outcomes

Intro

Sometimes when you’re asked to plan or deliver a project, you can find yourself overwhelmed by all the different ways of presenting the work on the paper.

This article takes you through three key frameworks (models) you can use to articulate your work, and explains which models work best in which circumstances.

Frameworks are important because without them, we risk failing to communicate our work effectively to our beneficiaries, funders, partners or our own staff and volunteers.

At best this leads to disorganisation, confusion and a lack of shared purpose. At worst it can cost organisations thousands of pounds in lost funding or lead to ineffective or even harmful work being delivered without the organisation even realising.

1. Logic model

PROS

  • This is the simplest of the three models and takes the least amount of planning.
  • It is easy for the reader to understand as well as being easy for the person delivering it to write up.
  • Although not advisable, this is an exercise that could be done in less than five minutes if a project or service has already been thought through or is already being delivered.

CONS

  • It fails to convey the complexity of how change (outcomes) are brought about – there is no sense of causation or links between outcomes or which activities deliver which outcomes.
  • It doesn’t provide any information or guidance on how success will be measured (indicators).

WHEN TO USE IT

Choosing the logic model may work as a good way of supporting staff new to impact practice to begin taking responsibility for planning the outcomes of their work.

If a project or service is being proposed in very early stages, such as an Expression of Interest to a grant funder or a proposal by a staff member to a senior manager, the logic model can help convey simple information clearly and quickly without too much of an investment in time.

2. Theory of Change

PROS

  • This model is very good at conveying the complexity of change (outcomes) and the cause/effect nature of work. It shows which projects or programme are delivering which changes.
  • It provides a good opportunity to get the whole organisation involved in the design.
  • It works well for showing how the work of different teams, departments, projects or programmes contribute to the same goals.

CONS

  • It can be difficult for the reader to make sense of, especially if it involves a lot of activities and changes (which it mostly will if it’s done at an organisation-wide level). It is advisable to do a narrative version alongside the visual depiction or at least a short explanation of how a Theory of Change should be ‘read’.
  • Like the logic model, it doesn’t provide any information or guidance on how success will be measured (indicators).

WHEN TO USE IT

This is a good model to use if you want to explain to stakeholders how your organisation plans to effect change.

It can also be a helpful model to use if you are going through a strategic review.

If you are struggling to bring an organisation together after rifts or even mergers, this can be a helpful exercise to get everybody working together and understanding how their work support each other and the overall goals of the organisation.

3. Monitoring and Evaluation Framework

PROS

  • This model is necessary to answer the question “How will we know when we’re successful?” as it provides a plan for how success will be measured (indicators).
  • It is a very handy model to have for continuity should staff leave or join as it provides a good level of instruction regarding who has responsibility for doing and what and when in terms of impact practice.
  • It demonstrates a very considered level of thinking about a project or programme.

CONS

  • Of the three models, this one can be the hardest for staff new to impact practice to understand, particularly when it comes to defining indicators (measures) for outputs and outcomes. It also requires staff to consider what tools they will use to measure their indicators, which may require designing tools from scratch. As a result, this model may take the most planning time.
  • It doesn’t show the cause and effect nature of different levels of outcomes, nor does it show which output causes which outcomes. However, you may be able to redesign your framework by adding columns which link outputs and outcomes especially if you number or letter them.

WHEN TO USE IT

This is a good model to use when it’s clear a project will likely be going ahead, or when a finer level of detail is required, for example when bidding for a tender.

Where there are existing projects without written or consolidated frameworks, it is advisable to ask staff involved in delivery to complete this framework to avoid loss of knowledge if staff move or leave.

Conclusion

All three models can be done at any level: an individual project, a whole programme or for a whole organisation. They are meant to be planning tools designed prior to intervention; reviewed and perfected as the intervention is delivered and new things are learned.

However, none of us are likely working in perfect circumstances and so it is a good idea to put these in place retrospectively if a service is already underway.

All three have their pros and their cons. The use of one model may be more appropriate in one particular circumstance than another so it is important to consider the context when deciding which model to use. 

In an ideal situation, because all three have their own merits and purposes, you would have a service or organisation articulated through all three models at the same time. You can then choose which is the best model to communicate to a stakeholder depending on the circumstance, as well us understanding a service or organisation from every angle yourself.