C4D: Develop program theory or logic model

What is it?

A program theory or logic model explains how the activities of an intervention are understood to contribute to a chain of results (short-term outputs, medium-term outcomes) that produce ultimate intended or actual impacts. It can be shown in the form inputs->processes->outputs ->outcomes -> impacts but sometimes other forms are more useful.

General Information

The Rainbow Framework page on program theories and logic models provides detailed descriptions and advice of a general nature. There is also a range of other generalist resources:

These resources are useful as background reading before considering methods to apply to C4D.  

Applying the C4D principles


The C4D Evaluation Framework would encourage a participatory approach to engaging with stakeholders to build theories of change. This ensures that program theories are generated in ways that respect and include local ways of knowing the world. Other sources, such as existing program documents, previous research on similar types of initiatives, and observations of existing initiatives can be incorporated as well. There may be legitimate reasons why a participatory approach might not be appropriate, or possible, or needs to be very limited (such as where key stakeholders are dispersed and time poor). The reasons for this decision, and how decisions have been made when developing the program theory, should be documented. 


A theory of change might have complicated aspects, involving multiple contributing actors, multiple goals, and different pathways linking activities to specified goals in different contexts. A theory of change might also have complex aspects able to incorporate emergent local solutions, participation by new stakeholders, introduction of new pathways and uncertain ultimate outcomes. A more detailed theory of change can be developed retrospectively using Outcome Harvesting.


Program Theories and logic models can be used at various stages of the program cycle. In a learning-based approach, these would be developed over time as more knowledge becomes available:

  • The design stage of the strategic planning process should include the development of a theory of change. For example, this might be one of the last tasks of a situation analysis.
  • This may be revisited mid-cycle, especially in more complex and unpredictable initiatives (see section on complexity), where it is more likely that you will need to revise and build on your theory of change as you learn more.
  • In evaluation studies and final evaluations program theories should inform the design of evaluations. Revising (or, where none exist, creating) a program theory may be one of the first tasks of the evaluation.


Program theories should consider how a program might work for different groups, particularly vulnerable and marginalised groups. Theories and models should be developed with and alongside groups that experience marginalisation. This helps to develop a program theory/logic model that is sensitive to what might work (and what doesn't) for whom in what circumstances.

Special guidance on 'complexity' and theories of change/logic model in C4D

To address the complicated aspects of C4D, it is useful to have a theory of change or logic model that:

  • Shows how C4D activities connect to other program activities and to other interventions to achieve shared results 
  • Shows how C4D might be affected by differences in the context. The differences may be in terms of where it is implemented (e.g. different sites), and with whom (e.g. people with different characteristics). This is important because the same activities might produce different results in different contexts, or different contexts might require different activities
  • Is sensitive to shared or different goals, agendas, missions and values among partners and stakeholder groups
  • States long-term results in ways that are concrete, such as access to services, or skills and knowledge about how something should be done or operated. 

To cover the complex aspects of C4D, it is useful to have a theory of change that:

  • Presents a ‘living’ explanation of how activities contribute to development that is revised with cycles of adaptive C4D implementation and action
  • States long-term results in ways that are more open-ended, intangible and relate to the future opportunities to grow with partners and participants
  • Represents the theory of change in terms of a narrative and based on principles, which can then be applied in response to the particular situation. This is often more useful than a diagram of boxes and arrows (see section below on 'Options that may be useful for representing C4D components').

Recommended methods and adaptations for developing a program theory or logic model for C4D

  • The following options can be used in combination with each other.

Participatory processes

  • The page on Program Theory/Logic Models lists several processes that enable participatory approaches to developing a program theory which could be applied to C4D, such as:

  • In addition, the resources shown below can be used in a participatory workshop.

Using existing resources to inform the development of a program theory

  • For example, UNICEF has developed several resources to summarise some of the main social theories that underpin C4D practice. These are built around the Socio-Ecological Model, and therefore cover theories about how change happens across five levels of society.

Using other existing resources on C4D theories to inform the development of a program theory

  • It is always good to use a range of sources and think about how they might be used and combined.

Methods that are useful for representing C4D components

Intentional design

  • Intentional design is part of the Outcome Mapping approach to M&E. It sets out seven steps to define the vision, identify actors who can be influenced, outline the desired outcomes and changes, identify progress markers, and develop strategy maps and implementation plans.

    Intentional Design is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Holistic: Outcome Mapping as a whole, and Intentional Design as one of the key steps, provides a way to think holistically and systemically about how an initiative intends to achieve results.
    • Realistic: the Intentional Design part of Outcome Mapping is unique in the way it uses the concept of 'boundaries' to map out extent that the program can realistically influence changes in people and groups by organising these into three the different 'spheres': spheres of control, spheres of influence, and spheres of concern.
    • Complex: the approach recognises multiple, non-linear events leading to change. Instead of focusing on impact it focuses on subtle changes that are within the initiative's sphere of influence.

    NB: Outcome Mapping is a comprehensive approach to M&E in its own right. You could just borrow the concept of Intentional Design, as part of the Theory of Change, or you may use Outcome Mapping as your M&E approach and follow those steps.

Theory of change

  • The Theory of Change approach generally allows for more flexibility in thinking about transformative changes (as opposed to more projectable and predictable changes) compared to more linear options like Logframes (Lennie & Tacchi 2013).


  • These training slides provide guidance on undertaking problem identification and causal analysis (including Five Whys and Problem Tree Analysis), developing and outcome chain, prioritisation, and risk and assumption assessment. The slides then suggest the theory of change is represented as a Results Framework, though there are other ways the theory of change could be represented. This resource is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Accountable: Results Based Management is typically accountability focused mechanism, used to guide upward reporting and ensure a results focus. 

C4D Examples

  • Retrospective Analysis of ODF in Nadia District, India - example of participatory process to develop a Theory of Change

    In this study the researchers used Articulating Mental Models to seek the inputs of key stakeholders in the development of the Theory of Change, as well as the overall design of the study. This was process undertaken during the scoping phase. Relevant UNICEF teams, the District Administration, Faith-based-organisations, health workers, corporate sector stakeholders, community-level committees and groups were asked directly about their theories of change, with the findings being combined and used as the basis for further exploration. To do this, researchers/evaluators asked about:

    • The role they played in their local context,
    • The triggers which encouraged their participation in the project
    • The enabling factors which facilitated the actualisation of the success of the project
    • The manner in which the project has impacted the lives within the local context
    • The sustainability factors

    More information about how this study exemplifies the approaches advocated in the C4D Evaluation Framework will be available soon.

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