1. Develop program logic and review needs

An important early step in planning a program evaluation is to describe how the program is intended to work, using program logic. In some cases it is important to review the needs the program aims to address, through a needs assessment.

Use in program design and program evaluation

Program logic and needs assessment are tools used for both designing programs and for conducting program evaluation.

Program design should include program logic, to link the program activities to the program aims and intended outcomes. It should also use needs assessment to provide evidence about the needs the program aims to address.

Ideally, program design should consider evaluation, so that rigorous methods of outcome evaluation and associated collection of program data can be put in place from the outset.

For program evaluation, reviewing the program logic will provide a description of the program and its intended outcomes that will help shape the evaluation questions and data collection methods. Needs assessment can be used to review the appropriateness of the program settings.

Develop or review the program logic

A program logic should illustrate how your project/program/policy will work by linking program activities with intended outcomes, in other words showing the intended causal links for the program.

Different terms are used for this tool, including program logic, program theory, logic model, theory of change, causal model, outcomes hierarchy, results chain, and intervention logic. Often it is represented as a one page diagram.

The diagrams and terms used with program logic may also vary. Sometimes they are shown as a series of boxes. Sometimes they are shown in a table, sometimes as a series of results, with activities occurring alongside them rather than just at the start. Some diagrams show the causal links from left to right, some from bottom to top.

Ultimately, any program logic should show a set of causal relationships at the right scale and level using the approach and terminology prevalent in the policy field or agency.

There is no one way to represent program logic – the test is whether it is a representation of the program's causal links, and whether it communicates to the intended audience by making sense and help them understand the program.

Program logic can also identify other influences on intended program outcomes. When used in program design, it can point to external factors and possible negative outcomes, which can be used to refine the program design.

The program logic can be developed or reviewed at different times in the program cycle: before a program starts, during implementation, and as part of a program evaluation.

It is a tool used in planning and evaluation to:

  • clarify and communicate intended outcomes and assumptions
  • make causal assumptions explicit and test how they are supported by evidence
  • provide a framework for monitoring or evaluation
  • tell the story of how a program works.

Developing program logic is partly an analytical process and partly a consultative process. Analytically it should review the program settings to identify statements of activities, objectives, aims and intended outcomes, then refine and assemble these statements into a causal chain that shows how the activities are assumed to contribute to immediate outcomes, intermediate outcomes and ultimately to the longer term outcome. Consultatively the process should involve working with a range of stakeholders to draw on their understanding of the outcomes and logic, and also encourage greater ownership of the final program logic diagram.

Needs assessment

Needs assessment is a systematic method to determine who needs the program, how great the need is, characteristics of the target group, patterns of unmet needs, and what might work to meet the needs identified. It is an evaluation of the needs the program addresses.

Needs assessment is used to develop or refine program settings, and to assess whether the program is still needed. It is a tool that can be used for program planning, and also as part of a program evaluation to review the current pattern of needs. It can be used to determine whether program settings are still appropriate (i.e. the extent to which the needs identified in the program design still exist and warrant the program).

Examples of key evaluations questions for needs assessment are:

  • What problems exist and how big or serious are they?
  • What are the characteristics and needs of the target population?
  • What are needs unmet by the program?

1. Program logic diagram
2. Revised statement of program aims and needs