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Creating a better future for communities through research

Innovations in Building and Using Logic Models

The Challenge

The "Program Logic Model" has become a widely used and effective planning tool for evaluation and research across many different contexts. Primarily, logic models visually show the theory and practice of a social program, displaying the linkages between what a program does (the "activities") and what it is trying achieve (the "outcomes"). This aids critical discussion of a program and promotes ways to measure its effectiveness. A weakness of conventional logic models is that they are overly linear and limited to simple independent programs. The challenge has been to apply visual models to our more complex projects, such as multi-site interventions, complex community initiatives, systems-level change, local-to-national knowledge networks, and programs taking a social determinants of health perspective.


CCBR uses logic models and related tools in many of our evaluation projects. Some innovative models have been developed with the Ministry of Children & Youth Services, Canadian Association for Community Living, Canadian Mental Health Association Peel Region, and Waterloo Region Public Health.

Innovative Solutions

In developing an effective visual tool - such as a logic model or other conceptual diagram - CCBR has followed several key principles:

  • A model should consolidate and reduce a lot of complex information into one visual space. It should be succinct and easy to navigate.

  • A model should be driven by the needs of our partners and developed collaboratively with diverse stakeholders. Usually the need is straightforward - there is a lot of complicated information that needs to be organized and understood.

  • A model should promote critical discussion of research or evaluation questions of interest. In other words, a good model usually "unearths" issues or assumptions that people have not yet thought about.

  • A model should follow consistent rules. Usually, this means asking if the model is "logical" --- does it make sense that A should lead to B?

  • "Think outside the box" - Creating models should be approached flexibly. Models can take many different forms and formats, provided they remain conceptually and logically sound.

One Example

CCBR conducted a research project with the Family and Community Resources Division of Waterloo Region Public Health to assist with examining best practices in regional Family Health programs and supports, and associated demographic trends, legislative mandates, and policies. This required gathering, understanding, and synthesizing an immense amount of information from multiple sources, while using a framework that positioned family health within the context of "social determinants of health".

Conventional linear diagrams were quite limited in describing complex pathways to healthy families and communities. As an alternative, CCBR developed "Eco-logic Models" (see presentation at right), which combined ecological systems with elements of conventional logic models. In this way we could present the key social determinants of family health at multiple levels of the individual child, family, community, and services system. We could then overlay the best practices that address particular social determinants at each level and how current policies and programs are situated in relation to these ecological levels. This allowed us to achieve a more holistic and critical understanding of the supports and services in the region that impact on family health and what gaps may exist.


As social interventions become more complex and more ambitious, organizations have a greater need for innovative tools and methods to aid planning, development, monitoring and evaluation and, ultimately, improvements to their work. The extension of basic principles of logic model creation and use to complex initiatives has opened up a new set of challenges and opportunities. We have found, first and foremost, that logic models are a very effective way for stakeholders to communicate complicated ideas and concepts about the work they do and how it relates to different levels of change (to individuals, communities, systems, etc.). This inspires critical discussion, planning, and action. In this way, logic models are no longer merely a place to list activities and outcomes for the purposes of evaluation measurement. In our experience, logic model frameworks help build the capacity for knowledge and information sharing within and across organizations. This serves to move evaluation capacity and knowledge production (What do we do? What are our goals? How do we measure our impact?) to knowledge mobilization (How can we communicate the goals of our initiative within and beyond our network in order to advance our practice and impact?).

-written by Jason Newberry

Related Presentations

An "Eco-Logic Model" (for full presentation, click "details" at left)

Family Health Support: Using Social Determinants of Health and Ecological Models to Plan Holistic Community Services. Details...

Developing evaluation frameworks for large, multi-program projects: Building logic “meta-models” and visual databases. Details...

Related CCBR Journal Article

Janzen, R., Nelson, G., Hausfather, N. & Ochocka, J. (2007). Capturing system level activities and impacts of consumer-run organizations: Methods that inform future action. American Journal of Community Psychology. Special issue on systems change evaluation, 39, 287-299.