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A Logic Model Hack: The Project Reality Check

Posted by on February 24th, 2017 Posted in: Logic Models, Practical Evaluation


Duct tape or duck tape torn strips of isolated elements of strong adhesive gray material used in packaging boxes or repairing or fixing broken things that need to be sealed air tight.

Logic models just may be the duct tape of the evaluation world.

A logic model’s usefulness extends well beyond initial project planning. (If you aren’t familiar with logic models, here’s a fun introduction.)  Today’s post starts a new NEO Shop Talk series to take our readers beyond Logic Models 101. We call this series Logic Model Hacks. Our first topic: The Project Reality Check. Watch for more hacks in future posts.

The Project Reality Check allows you to assess the feasibility of your project with stakeholders, experienced colleagues, and key informants.  I refer to these people as “Reality Checkers.”  (I’m capping their title out of respect for their importance.)  Your logic model is your one-page project vision. Present it with a brief pitch, and you can bring anyone up to speed on your plans in a New York minute (or two).  Then, with a few follow-up questions, you can guide your Reality Checkers in identifying key project blind spots. What assumptions you are making? What external factors could help or hinder your project? The figure below is the logic model template from the NEO’s booklet Planning Outcomes-Based Outreach Projects . This template includes boxes for assumptions and external factors. By the time you complete your Project Reality Check, you will have excellent information to add to those boxes.

How to Conduct a Logic Model Reality Check

I always incorporate Project Reality Checks into any logic model development process I lead. Here is my basic game plan:

  • A small project team (2-5 people) works out the project plan and fills in the columns of the logic model. One person can do this step, if necessary.
  • After filling in the main columns, this working group drafts a list of assumptions and external factors for the boxes at the bottom. However, I don’t add the working group’s information to the logic model version for the Reality Checkers. You want fresh responses from them. Showing them your assumptions and external factors in advance may prevent them from generating their own. Best to give them a clean slate.
  • Make a list of potential Reality Checkers and divvy them up among project team members.
  • Prepare a question guide for querying your Reality Checkers.
  • Set up appointments. You can talk with your Reality Checkers in one-to-one conversations that probably will take 15-20 minutes. If you can convene an advisory group for your project, you could easily adapt the Project Reality Check interview process for a group discussion.

Here are the types of folks who might be good consultants for your project plans:

  • The people who will be working on the actual project.
  • Representatives from partner organizations.
  • Key informants. Here’s a tip: If you conducted key informant interviews for community assessment related to this project, don’t hesitate to show your logic model to those interviewees. It is a way to follow-up on the first interview, showing how you are using the information they provided. This is an opportunity for second contact with community opinion leaders.
  • Colleagues who conducted similar projects.
  • Funding agency staff. This is not always feasible, but take advantage of the opportunity if it’s there. These folks have a birds-eye view of what succeeds and fails in communities served by their organizations.

It’s a good idea to have an interview plan, so that you can use your Reality Checkers’ time efficiently and adequately capture their valuable advice. I would start with a short elevator speech, to provide context for the logic model.  Here’s a template you can adapt;

We have this exciting project, where we are trying to ___ [add your goal here]. Specifically, we want _____{the people or organization benefiting from your project}  to _________[add your outcomes]. We plan to do it by ____{summarize your activities).  Here’s our logic model, that shows a few more details of our plan.”

Then, you want to follow up with questions for the Reality Checkers:

  • What assumptions are we making that you think we need to check?
  • Are there resources in the community or in our partner organization that might help us do this project?
  • Are there barriers or challenges we should be prepared to address?
  • I would also like to check some assumptions our project team is making. Present your assumptions at the end of the discussion and get the Reality Checkers’ assessment.

How to Apply What You Learn

After completing the interviews, your working team should reconvene to process what you learned. Remove some of the assumptions that you confirmed in the interviews. Add any new assumptions to be investigated. Adapt your logic model to leverage newly discovered resources (positive external factors) or change your activities to address challenges or barriers. Prepare contingency plans for project turbulence predicted by your Reality Checkers.

Chances are high that you will be changing your logic model after the Project Reality Check. The good news is that you will only have to make changes on paper. That’s much easier than responding to problems that arise because you didn’t identify your blind spots during the planning phase of your project.

Other blog posts about logic models:

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Logic Models (The Chili Lesson)

An Easier Way to Plan:Tearless Logic Models

Logic Models: Handy Hints

Image of the author ABOUT Cindy Olney
Cindy Olney is the Assistant Director of the NNLM Evaluation Office.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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