C4D Hub: 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 main 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 options to apply to C4D.  

Program theories/logical models and 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.

Learning based 

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 options 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 articulating mental modelsbackcastingfive whys, and group modelling. 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.

The Communication Initiative includes summaries of many C4D theories (Theory of Planned Behaviour, Commitment to Change, Transformational Change etc.) Browse resources on change theories here.   

Communication for Social Change: an Integrated Model for Measuring the Process and Its Outcomes - (Maria Elena Figueroa, D. Lawrence Kincaid, Manju Rani, Gary Lewis 2002). This paper presents an overview of a theory of change for communication for social change (community dialogue and collective action). A visual representation of the theory is on page 7. The document includes sample process and outcome indicators. Click here to go directly to this resource. This resource is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

  • complexthe theory includes at least two negative feedback loops where disagreements, dissatisfaction and conflicts can lead to backtracking of progress. It also includes other feedback loops where individual and social changes may strengthen dialogue and collective action processes.
  • holistic: the model recognises that external constraints and support influence the processes of collective action and outcomes.  

The Monitoring and Evaluation for Participatory Theatre for Change includes a section on Theories and Assumptions of Change (page 11-14) and Next Steps with Theory of Change (page 14-15). Although it has been developed for participatory theatre, the 'Reach, Resonance and Response' framing could be adapted to a range of C4D initiatives.  Click here to read a summary and review of this resource. This resource is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways: 

  • ComplexThe guide outlines six different, interconnected theories and assumptions as part of the overall Theory of Change. It is a good example of how multiple theories can be used.  
  • Realistic'Reach, Resonance and Response' framing provides a powerful yet manageable way to think through how different theories combine in an initiative. The guide outlines six core theories of change, but encourages users to choose only those that relate to the initiative.
  • holistic: while the theories of change provided are general to participatory theatre, the guide suggests that only the relevant theories and selected, and that theories are adapted and informed by context/conflict analysis. 

Options that are useful for representing C4D components

Intentional design (part of the Outcome Mapping approach to M&E)

Intentional design sets out seven steps to define the vision, identify actors who can be influenced, outlining the desired outcomes and changes, identifying progress markers, developing strategy maps and implementation plans. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

  • holisticOutcome 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.
  • complexthe 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. Click here to read more about Outcome Mapping to see if it is the right choice for you. 

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).


Keystone Accountability’s guide for Developing a Theory of Change (Developing a Theory of Change: A guide to developing a theory of change as a framework for inclusive dialogue, learning and accountability for social impact) provides an accessible and easy to follow set of activities for developing a theory of change. It is particularly useful for C4D initiatives that include participatory communication and dialogue, and other forms of community engagement and social change. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

  • ParticipatoryThe guide includes workshop plans to undertake activities with stakeholders
  • Holisticthe guide promotes thinking about systemic and contextual factors, and interrelationships.
  • ComplexThe guide is sensitive to complex and dynamic types of initiatives, explicitly addressing these factors in instructions   

UNICEF PowerPoint on RBM slides 13-47 (click here to download) 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 slide then suggests 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:

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

Realist Matrix

A Realist Matrix shows how the same activities could trigger different causal mechanisms in different contexts (in different implementation environments, or for different groups of participants).  It comes from the Realist Evaluation approach, however, a Realist Matrix can be used as a standalone approach to representing a program theory (see the BetterEvaluation website for full details). It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

  • Complex: the Realist Matrix ensures that the program theory is explicit about the causes and influences of change with reference to the agency of actors, the actual mechanisms of change, and the outcome
  • Holisticthe Realist Matrix ensures that attention is paid to the context and other variables such as social and political factors, and the available resources.
  • Critical: the Realist Matrix considers power and different in the development of the program theory, helping to answer 'what works for whom under what conditions?’

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.

Terms of Reference for the action research and evaluation of ‘She Can’ - ActionAid

This TOR sets out how an action research/evaluation initiative will use learning-based processes to develop an initial theory of change, which is then reviewed and revised throughout the three phases of the consultancy. Although the term 'C4D' is not used in this TOR, the activities include campaigns, mobilisation, coalition building, and women's groups and school clubs: all relevant to C4D. Click here to read a summary and review of this resource. The approach and the TOR are consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in relation to this task in the following ways:

  • complex: the use of the phased process allows for an adaptive approach to developing and reflecting upon the Theory of Change. In the third and final phase the theory of change is used for a theory-based evaluation to unpack change processes. 
  • learning-based: building on the phased, adaptive, and learning-based process above where findings are built into the change theory and implementation over time, the users (specified on page 9) are the program staff and partners who will use the findings to improve implementation, the 'beneficiaries' who will use it to better understand effective strategies for change, and DFID who are interested from a policy point of view.
  • participatory this TOR is an example of how an external evaluator can work with program staff to develop and refine a theory of change. The description on pages 5-6 shows clearly the way the consultant is expected to work in partnership with program teams and other stakeholders, and the governance structures outlined on page 9 point to the inclusion of stakeholders and partners.
  • realisticThe TOR directly addresses this by stating that the evaluation design must be proportionate to the scale and scope of the project, and should seek to minimise the burden on project and partner field staff in particular' (page 8). 


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