Articulating mental models

Articulating mental models involves talking individually or in groups with key informants (including program planners, service implementors and clients) about how they understand an intervention works.

A useful way of going about this can be to have a set of lead questions meant to draw out ideas about the stakeholders' understanding of the intervention's contribution in addressing the problem. In their book, Purposeful Program Theory, Funnell and Rogers have a list of questions that can be used for this purpose:

Exhibit 6.1 Questions for Drawing Out Program Theories

  • Can you give me an example of where this program is working really well? Why did you choose that example? What do you think is making it work well? (You can also ask about examples that are not working so well.) If the answers are about program processes only and not outcomes, then extend the questions by asking why those processes are important for program clients and outcomes for clients.
  • How would life be better for participants or intended beneficiaries if this program worked well?

  • What are the current barriers to a good life for program participants? (You could explore this in relation to particular domains such as health, employment, or social participation.)

  • How would you see this program overcoming those barriers?

  • What is it about the way the program operate that would or could make life better for participants or intended beneficiaries?

  • What does the program currently do that helps to make it work and what is not working so well?

  • What else needs to happen?

  • Who else needs to be involved and how?

  • Does the program try to influence those other parties, and if so, what would you expect them to do differently?

(In Purposeful Program Theory, Funnell and Rogers,2011: p.124)

From these questions, you can work with the stakeholders to develop their if-then story of what outcomes the program will achieve for participants and others.

Follow-up questions on why they would expect one thing to lead to the other can be used to draw out information on the mechanisms for change, the assumptions that need to be met about how the program or intervention should operate, and an awareness of the external conditions and other factors that might affect the outcome.


Funnell, S.C. and Rogers, P. J. (2011) Purposeful program theory: effective use of theories of change and logic models.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. Can be purchased through

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