Skip to main content

Purposeful Program Theory: Effective Use of Theories of Change and Logic Models




Purposeful Program Theory: Effective Use of Theories of Change and Logic Models

Sue C. Funnell, Patricia J. Rogers

ISBN: 978-0-470-47857-8 March 2011 Jossey-Bass 576 Pages


Between good intentions and great results lies a program theory—not just a list of tasks but a vision of what needs to happen, and how. Now widely used in government and not-for-profit organizations, program theory provides a coherent picture of how change occurs and how to improve performance. Purposeful Program Theory shows how to develop, represent, and use program theory thoughtfully and strategically to suit your particular situation, drawing on the fifty-year history of program theory and the authors' experiences over more than twenty-five years.

"From needs assessment to intervention design, from implementation to outcomes evaluation, from policy formulation to policy execution and evaluation, program theory is paramount. But until now no book has examined these multiple uses of program theory in a comprehensive, understandable, and integrated way. This promises to be a breakthrough book, valuable to practitioners, program designers, evaluators, policy analysts, funders, and scholars who care about understanding why an intervention works or doesn't work." —Michael Quinn Patton, author, Utilization-Focused Evaluation

"Finally, the definitive guide to evaluation using program theory! Far from the narrow 'one true way' approaches to program theory, this book provides numerous practical options for applying program theory to fulfill different purposes and constraints, and guides the reader through the sound critical thinking required to select from among the options. The tour de force of the history and use of program theory is a truly global view, with examples from around the world and across the full range of content domains. A must-have for any serious evaluator." —E. Jane Davidson, PhD, Real Evaluation Ltd.

Companion Web site:

Figures, Tables, and Exhibits x

Acknowledgments xv

The Authors xvii

Introduction: The Promise and Risks of Using Program Theory xix

Part One Key Ideas in Program Theory

Chapter 1: The Essence of Program Theory 3

Evaluation Without Program Theory 3

Evaluation with Program Theory 6

Summary 13

Exercises 13

Chapter 2: Variations of Program Theory over Time 15

A Short History of Program Theory 15

Terminology in Program Theory 23

Key Ideas in Program Theory 30

Summary 34

Exercises 35

Chapter 3: Common Myths and Traps 37

Some Common Myths 37

Traps to Avoid When Developing and Using Program Theory 41

Summary 52

Exercises 52

Part Two Assessing Your Circumstances

Chapter 4: Scoping Intended Uses 55

Why Intended Use Matters 55

Using Program Theory 58

Summary 67

Exercises 68

Chapter 5: The Nature of the Situation and the Intervention 69

Simple, Complicated, and Complex 70

Focus 74

Governance 80

Consistency 82

Necessariness 84

Sufficiency 85

Change Trajectory 88

Summary 90

Exercise 91

Part Three Developing and Representing Program Theory

Chapter 6: Processes to Identify or Develop a Program Theory 95

Process Options for Developing Program Theory 95

Decision 1: Who Should Be Involved in Developing a Program Theory, and How? 97

Decision 2: What Is an Appropriate Mix of Approaches for Developing or Eliciting the Program Theory? 101

Decision 3: How Might Workshops and Interviews Be Used in Developing Program Theory? 120

Decision 4: As Challenges Arise, How Should They Be Addressed? 128

Decision 5: How Much Time and Resources Should Be Invested in Developing or Identifying a Program Theory? 141

Decision 6: When Is It Time to Revisit a Program Theory? 144

Summary 147

Exercise 148

Chapter 7: Developing a Theory of Change 149

Features of a Theory of Change 150

Situation Analysis: Understanding the Problem, Its Causes, and Its Consequences 151

Focusing and Scoping 163

Outcomes Chain 176

Summary 195

Exercises 196

Chapter 8: Developing a Theory of Action 199

Preparing the Theory of Action 204

Success Criteria for a Theory of Change 204

Assumptions About Factors That Affect Successful Achievement of Outcomes 217

How to Identify Factors That Are Likely to Affect Outcomes 226

Identifying What the Program Does 229

Pulling the Theory of Change and the Theory of Action Together in a Matrix 235

Summary 237

Exercise 240

Chapter 9: Representing Program Theory 241

Options for Representation 241

Representing Complicated Program Theory 251

Representing Complex Program Theory 264

What Makes a Good Representation of Program Theory 277

Should Logic Models Include SMART Measures? 290

Summary 291

Exercises 292

Chapter 10: Critiquing Program Theory 293

Criteria for Assessing Internal Validity 296

Criteria for External Validation 305

Engaging Stakeholders in the Review 312

Responding to the Results of a Review of a Program Theory 314

Summary 316

Exercise 316

Part Four Resources for Developing Program Theory

Chapter 11: Some Research-Based Theories of Change 319

Theory of Reasoned Action and Theory of Planned Behavior 323

Stages of Change Theory 326

Empowerment Theory 332

Diffusion Theory 335

Socioecological Theory 339

Network Theory 342

Selecting and Using Theories of Change 347

Summary 349

Exercises 349

Chapter 12: Some Common Program Archetypes 351

Some Important Program Archetypes 351

Advisory, Information, and Education Program Archetype 352

Carrots and Sticks Program Archetype 357

Case Management Programs Program Archetype 367

Community Capacity-Building Program Archetype 370

Product or Direct Service Delivery Program Archetype 374

Deciding Which Program Archetype Applies to a Program 381

Summary 385

Exercise 386

Chapter 13: Logic Models Resources 387

Pipeline Logic Models 387

Variations of Outcomes Chain Logic Models 396

Technology for Representing Program Theory 399

Summary 414

Exercise 414

Part Five Using Program Theory for Monitoring and Evaluation

Chapter 14: Developing a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan 417

Using Program Theory for Performance Monitoring 418

Making Choices About What to Measure Within the Program Theory 425

Including Comparisons as Part of the Performance Information System 434

Using Program Theory to Plan an Evaluation 438

Considerations When Using Program Theory to Design Evaluations of Complicated and Complex Programs 455

Summary 466

Exercises 467

Chapter 15: Causal Inference 469

The Need to Be Scientific and Pragmatic 469

A Framework for Causal Analysis Using Program Theory 473

Congruence 474

Counterfactual Comparisons 488

Critical Review 495

Summary 499

Exercises 499

Chapter 16: Synthesis and Reporting 501

Synthesis and Reporting for a Single Evaluation 501

Synthesis and Reporting Across Evaluations 508

Summary 516

Exercises 516

New Frontiers for Program Theory 517

References 519

Index 537

“This contribution is a must read for every evaluator, administration or project manager willing to engage in theory-based evaluation or theory-based program planning. It stands out from all the literature on this subject by giving an array of examples of program theory as well as practical advice to conduct evaluation to understand what works for whom and in which conditions.”
– “Read for You”, Eureval (Centre for European Expertise and Evaluation)