Theory of Change or Logic Model

Some people use the terms “theory of change” and “logic model” interchangeably. Others say that it is important to maintain a distinction between the two. What do the two terms mean? And what’s the difference between them?

  • A theory of change takes a wide view of a desired change, carefully probing the assumptions behind each step in what may be a long and complex process. Articulating a theory of change often entails thinking through all the steps along a path toward a desired change, identifying the preconditions that will enable (and possibly inhibit) each step, listing the activities that will produce those conditions, and explaining why those activities are likely to work. It is often, but not always, presented as a flow chart.
  • A logic model takes a more narrowly practical look at the relationship between inputs and results. It is often presented as a table listing the steps from inputs or resources through the achievement of a desired program goal. Some grantmakers use separate logic models to chart the implementation components of theory of change.

A grantmaker who worked for several years on a program to improve the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods clarifies the distinction: “Logic models connect programmatic activities to client or consumer outcomes. But a theory of change also specifies how to create the right kinds of partnerships, hold the right forums, do the right kinds of technical assistance, and help people operate more collaboratively and be more results focused.” As one evaluator noted, between the two definitions are many “hybrid approaches that are less simplistic than traditional logic models but not as comprehensive as theories of change.” The right model will depend on many factors, including the complexity of the project, the time line, and the operating style of both grantmaker and grantee.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Mapping Change.