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Difference between ToC, Logframe and Theory of Action

What is the link between Theory of Change and the logical framework way of thinking and approach? What is the difference with a Theory of Action?

A ToC focuses on the dynamics  of change in a specific context or process and the drivers through which change comes about – irrespective of any planned interventions. Discussions around a theory of change may, therefore, well include aspects such as how power shifts occur, whether and how individuals can influence others, the role of the state versus civil society, if attitude changes precede behaviour shifts or vice versa, and more.  Central in a solid ToC is the explicit inclusion of the values that underpin views on how change happens, and importantly a series of assumptions about the change dynamics and drivers of change.

A Theory of Action (ToA) is an operationalisation of a (broader) ToC for a specific programme or intervention. It explains how a programme or intervention is constructed to activate the ToC. ToC and ToA combined provide the programme theory.

The Logframe is an example of a ToA that – if well done – is based on and reflects the underlying ToC. The bottom row of the Logframe matrix lists the activities in the first column. If the assumptions in the last column hold, then it is assumed that the outputs will materialise. The same thought process is used to construct each level creating a ‘zig-zag logic’ until eventually the final impact will be reached.

The Logframe Matrix is a logic model and planning tool that assumes linear cause and effect relationships. In practice, most Logframes deal very superficially with assumptions and do not make values explicit. Logframes are often used as a blueprint – to follow to the letter, making it a rigid and inflexible instrument for management. A Logframe matrix is also based on the idea of simple, often quantitative, measurement and strongly tends to focus on results and not on process and relationships.

The Logframe has a four step logic – input, output, outcome, impact. However, in real life the pathways through which change happens often have (many) more steps that interlink, go forward and then jump back or vice versa.

A ToC (and ToA) also includes logical thinking and reflection on possible cause – effect relationships between actions and intended results. But it is applied as a projection of the desired changes into the future which serves as a ‘map’ for monitoring the process and context in view of adaptive planning, checking the validity of assumptions and learning about change. It is not a rigid plan to be followed, but – on the contrary – should be revisited and revised on a regular basis.  

In fairness to the Logframe, it was originally approached as a way to enable stakeholder engagement and analysis, and became watered down into the accounting templates it is most often associated with today. 

For projects and programmes working in complex environments, the Logframe has not proven very useful and more flexible and value-based ToC logics are starting to be used. This shift is in recognition of the non-linearity of change under such conditions and the need to revisit assumptions regularly, and therefore the need to make them more explicit from the onset. Graphic ToC representation is also helpful compared to the Logframe Matrix, which is a wordy synthesis.