Strategy Maps, Logic Models, & Theory of Change, Oh My!

There are a lot of tools out there that can help you make something as murky as "strategy" a little more clear. But what should you choose?

Joseph, Director of Customer Success at ClearPoint, has over 10 years of experience working with customers to create efficient performance management and strategy execution processes.

What I wanted to do today was to give an introduction to these three models, discuss when you might want to use one framework and when you might want to use another. You'll probably end up confusing everyone if you try to use all three, but then again, I'm sure there are situations when it's warranted.

Theory of Change

The Aspen Institute defines theory of change as follows: "At its most basic, a theory of change explains how a group of early and intermediate accomplishments sets the stage for producing long-range results."

The theory of change model espoused by Aspen includes the following:

  • A pathway of change that illustrates the relationship between a variety of outcomes that are each thought of as preconditions of the long-term goal.
  • Indicators that are defined to be specific enough to measure success.
  • Interventions that are used to bring about each of the preconditions on the pathway, and at each step of the pathway.
  • Assumptions that explain why the whole theory makes sense!

Learn more about the theory of change here.

Logic Model

The logic model is more focused than the theory of change framework. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation defines a logic model as "a systematic and visual way to present and share your understanding of the relationships among the resources you have to operate your program, the activities you plan, and the changes or results you hope to achieve."

The logic model has five components:

  • Resources include the human, financial, organizational, and community resources a program has available to direct toward doing the work
  • Program Activities are what the program does with the resources
  • Outputs are the direct products of program activities
  • Outcomes are the specific changes in program participants' behavior, knowledge, skills, status, etc.
  • Impact is the fundamental intended or unintended change occurring in organizations, communities or systems as a result of program activities within seven to ten years

Read more about creating logic models here.

Strategy Maps

Finally, the strategy map (as we define it) is a set of cause and effect relationships that illustrate how the people, processes, and partners work together to achieve mission results. The strategy map is a pictorial representation of an organization's strategy and the hypotheses underlying that strategy.

A good strategy map will "tell the story of your strategy" and should be comprehensible by people within and outside your organization. Strategy Maps, as the name implies, are focused on the highest-level objectives and strategy of the organization and often will not mention individual programs by name. Instead, the strategy map includes the high-level pillars of your strategy and how you will achieve it.

Learn more about the strategy map here.

So, what model makes sense when?

The strategy map makes a lot of sense if you are operating at an organizational level and are looking to document your strategy in a way that everyone can understand. The theory of change, on the other hand, is more process focused. If the strategy map represents the "what" of your strategy, the theory of change represents the "how." Finally, logic models operate at the program level and really force the discipline of describing, in a concrete way, how the program will make an impact. I like to think of a logic models as a "business plan" for a program.


Strategy Maps, Logic Models, & Theory of Change, Oh My!