Skip to content

What is a theory of change and a logic model?

A theory of change and logic model are two tools that often accompany each other and are used to design, implement, and evaluate a program—in this case, your employment social enterprise’s employee success program. The primary objective of these tools is to support an organization to reflect on its impact and ask itself whether the employee success program is achieving the impact it hopes to achieve.

A theory of change (TOC) is a framework that explains an expected outcome of an assumed activity or set of activities that will impact the change your organization is hoping to achieve with your participant workers and/or in your community. This helps an ESE communicate its long-term vision for participant workers and what it believes it can do to impact this change. 

A logic model is a visual representation that outlines the organization’s impact, activities, and anticipated outcomes. It provides a clear roadmap for achieving social impact by defining the logical connections between inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. Logic models also assign metrics to the components to track progress along this continuum. For ESEs, a logic model explains in detail how the ESE job and wraparound services contribute to the short- and long-term outcomes of participant workers. 

It’s important to note that the definition of a theory of change and logic model varies in the social impact field. At REDF, we generally view the TOC as a framework that explains what a social enterprise seeks to create or change in their community over the long term. The logic model is a tool that documents a specific program, the activities related to the program, and measurable goals it seeks to achieve. 

Why is it important?

Having a well-defined and thoughtfully developed theory of change and logic model enables an employment social enterprise to:

  • Clearly communicate what it hopes to achieve and how it believes it will achieve those aims to various audiences, including funders, government partners, staff, and board (if it has one). 
  • Design an employee success program that is tailored to the desires of the ESE’s participant workers and is grounded in the ESE’s “best guess” for what is critical to supporting individuals from its focus population(s) in achieving their goals (given that limited evidence exists on what the most impactful strategies are for supporting individuals in breaking through barriers to employment).
  • Have tools for evaluating its work and staying accountable to the outcomes and impact it seeks to achieve. A logic model helps an ESE determine whether its allocation of activities and where it spends its time matches its outcomes; if it does not, the logic model can be especially helpful in identifying what needs adjusting. 
  • Avoid mission creep from agreeing to provide unrelated activities that do not affect the ultimate outcomes the ESE is hoping to achieve. 
  • Create alignment amongst its team and demonstrate to all staff how their roles contribute to the broader outcomes.  

Best practices

Developing a theory of change and a logic model is a collaborative process that should include a wide spectrum of stakeholders

This includes board members, staff, participant workers, and potentially community members.

  • Staff members should be notified in advance of your ESE’s desire to develop or update your theory of change and logic model. 
  • Allocate sufficient time for stakeholder input – especially from your staff who have direct knowledge of what is working and what isn’t. Develop a safe space and time for staff and all stakeholders to provide their honest input. 
  • As with all processes that include various stakeholders, ensure that their feedback is reflected in the final product. This will ensure that all stakeholders feel heard and connected to the logic model. If stakeholders feel connected, there is a higher likelihood that they will adopt and adhere to the framework. 

Understanding your focus population is a critical precursor to developing your theory of change and logic model.

They both should be tailored to the population you seek to employ. Just as you design your products/services for the needs of your customers, ESEs should design employee success programs for the desires of participant workers.

  • REDF believes that having a point of view on 1) the population you seek to focus on hiring, 2) the goals your ESE seeks to support participant workers in achieving, and 3) how your ESE intends to support participant workers in achieving these goals, is foundational to an employee success program. Your TOC and logic model should encapsulate this point of view. 

In developing a theory of change and logic model, a good practice is to complete an Employee Journey Map for a participant worker. 

  • An Employee Journey Map is a visual representation of an individual’s employment experience at your ESE. (Note: This tool has been adapted from Customer Journey Maps that are often used during business planning.) Similar to customer journey maps, employee journey maps place ESE staff “in the shoes” of participant workers. 
  • When completing an employee journey map, it’s important to think about a current employee, rather than a past one. Try not to consider “the best” employee or the outlier. Rather, think about someone who shares common goals and background experiences with others. 
  • Consider the context for the participant worker’s employment and what they hope to achieve through their employment, not just during their employment. Also, understand the barriers that the employee is breaking through, while more importantly considering their goals and aspirations. 
  • Think about an employee’s ESE work experience as an arc, with a beginning, middle, and end. 

Based on your understanding of your focus population and their desires and goals, as well as your employee journey map, develop a theory of change for your ESE.

  • A theory of change is often confused with a logic model, but a theory of change is a much simpler framework. You can think of it as a hypothesis. Theories of change are generally a statement phrased as an “if/then” statement. Put in the simplest terms, “If we do this, then we believe this will happen.” 

Once you have articulated your theory of change, map out a logic model that explains the details around “the how.”

  • A logic model is a tool for collaboration and aligning your entire ESE towards achieving the agreed upon outcomes. It generally has five components structured as a sequence of events. It’s often easier to start thinking about the event that is farther in the future (the impact) and then work backwards.
    • Impact: This is the overarching positive change that your ESE aims to create in the community or larger system. It’s the ultimate result of your efforts. 
    • Outcomes (short-term and long-term): The change you expect, in terms of how the original problem is addressed. A short term outcome is the change you expect from one or several outputs combined. The timeline for short term and long term outcomes is determined by your ESE. At REDF, when we think about a transitional ESE model, we often consider a short-term outcome to be around three to six months after being employed at the ESE, while a long-term outcome is 12 to 18 months after being hired. 
    • Activities (Employee success wraparound services): The activities that your ESE engages in to address the barriers experienced by participant workers. 
    • Outputs: The first measurable outputs that you expect to signal that you’re on the right track. Outputs are a direct result of the ESE activities. For example, if your ESE has career coaching as an activity, an output may be that 100% of participant workers have at least one coaching session. 
    • Inputs (Resources): The resources and tools that you use or work with to deliver your program.

Logic models can sometimes feel overwhelming. REDF recommends creating a logic model that is simple and easy to comprehend.

  • The Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice (GJCPP) developed a tearless logic model that seeks to demystify and simplify the tool by using questions to drive conversations and ultimately develop a logic model. The GJCPP recommends developing the various components of a logic model by the following questions:
    • Impact: If our [ESE] were operating at our very best, what would we be achieving?
    • Long term outcomes: If we have reached our “vision”, what has changed to allow that?
    • Short term outcomes: What changes would we expect to see in the next six months if we are heading in the right direction?
    • Activities: What do you need to do to create the changes we have just discussed?
    • Outputs: What can you “count” when you successfully do the “activities” we just talked about?
    • Resources: What do you have and what do you need to make this happen?
  • Make sure that your inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes are specific and clearly defined. The more specific the logic model is, the more effective (in theory) your employment success programs should be. Consider using the SMART goals framework to develop your outcomes.
    • Outcomes should relate to your ESE’s overall mission and vision. If your ESE is part of a parent agency, your ESE’s logic model should relate to the parent agency’s logic model, TOC, and/or strategic plan. 
    • Long-term outcomes should be stretch goals and should not easily be achieved. A logic model should serve as a blueprint for your ESE’s long-term desire to impact change. Given this, logic models should feel achievable, but not easy.  
    • To keep the logic model simple, REDF recommends having no more than three long-term outcomes for a program. 
    • Inputs and activities should ultimately relate to an outcome. If an activity has no clear outcomes, ask yourself whether this is something your ESE should be doing. Consider whether this activity can be done more effectively by a partner and should be outsourced.
  • When done well and with intention, a TOC and logic model can provide a strong foundation for designing an ESE’s employment success model. 

After developing your theory of change and logic model, communicate it internally with staff and externally as well. 

  • Every role within your ESE should be familiar with your TOC and logic model. Have large print-outs of your logic model around your office to serve as a reminder to both staff and participant workers. 
  • Staff should know what the TOC is and be able to communicate it in their own words with an understanding of how their job contributes towards the ESE outcomes.
  • Participant workers should understand what success looks like and how the ESE is supporting them to get there.
  • Communication with external stakeholders, board, and funders should align with the TOC, and decisions should be made towards the intended outcomes.
  • Your website should be able to summarize the ways in which your ESE works towards your theory of change.

Develop a plan to begin gathering data and tracking progress towards outputs and outcomes. 

A logic model is a living document that should be revisited at least once a year as part of your organization’s work planning process. Collaboration is once again critical in revisiting the logic model. 

  • Even if you have a strong employee success program in place, it’s important to regularly reflect to understand whether it’s achieving the results originally envisioned. For example, an employee success program will evolve over time simply because the needs of participant workers change and labor markets fluctuate. 
  • REDF developed this program reflection template to support ESEs in reflecting on their impact and their logic model.
  • It is important to build in time to reflect, whether your employee success program is nascent and offers limited support, or is robust and has years of development. 
  • No matter the stage, it’s important that your ESE asks itself whether the activities and services you are offering are making the intended impact you had assumed (or hypothesized!) it would (i.e., Are we achieving what we wanted to achieve with the things we are doing? Are we meeting our targets for short-term outcomes and progressing towards long-term impacts?).