Friday, February 01, 2008

Social Frameworks: An improvement on the Logical Framework?

Over the last week there have been quite a few email exchanges on the MandE NEWS email list about how to distinguish results from outcomes, results from impact, inputs from outputs, outcomes from impacts, etc. These are the various terms used to describe different levels of a Logical Framework description of a development intervention (in some of the variations of the Logical Framework used by some development agencies). This debate is not new; it comes and goes, and has appeared within most development organisations at some stage or another.

There are two causes of this confusion of nomenclature, in my view. One is that the Logical Framework describes a sequence of causally linked events happening over time. Time flows, it has no natural punctuation marks that can be used to distinguish and categorise stages of a process. It is not possible to “carve nature at the joints” when dealing with time. So any introduction of stage categories like inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, impacts etc., is artificial, and requires a consensus amongst the users of these terms, if they are to be useful. Within organisations that can be achieved, across organisations it is usually much more difficult.

The second cause is a widespread confusion between two types of hierarchy. The Logical Framework is supposed to represent a temporal hierarchy, of events taking place through time. Here A is supposed to lead to B, which is supposed to lead to C, etc. However some organisations mix in a different kind of hierarchy, when they introduce terms like “components”, and “sub-objectives”. This is a hierarchy of inclusion, where A, B, and C are part of X, and X, Y, and Z are in turn part of some larger entity. So the upper levels of this hierarchy are not the outcomes of lower level activities, but simply wider generalisations or descriptions of types of things described at the lower levels. I have seen this sort of terminology in some UNICEF Logical Frameworks in Indonesia, mixed in with Purpose and Goal statements that are part of a temporal hierarchy.

A Social Framework?

I have been experimenting with an alternative, which does not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. It could be called a Social Framework, rather than a Logical Framework, because it emphasises people and their relationships, rather than more abstract events and processes.

Let us start with the same tabular structure as the Logical Framework, but then introduce some significant changes. Each row of the narrative column (found on the left side of the Logical Framework) can be used to describe different types of actors (usually organisations or groups, rather than individuals). Actors in adjacent rows will be linked to each other by relationships that already exist, or which will be developed. The overall result is that the table describes a pathway of expected influence, from the actor in the bottom row up to the actor in the top row. The causal mechanisms are the relationships that link the actors. However, as in real life, this process of influence is unlikely to be one-directional. Both parties linked by a relationship may affect each other. For example a UK donor NGO may earn lessons from its southern partner, as well as being an important conduit of funding for that southern partner.

In the Katine project in Uganda this pathway consists of UK donors who fund AMREF who help develop the capacity of local organisations, who provide services to local households. You can see this "pathway to the poor" in the table below. However, you will see I have introduced an extra row, so I can differentiate between the internal workings of AMREF Katine as an organisational actor, and AMREF’s relationships with local organisations. As shown in the second table that follows the first, I could do the same with the other actors in the pathway. But one may not always want this degree of comprehensive detail. Nevertheless, note this basic point: actors and their relationships with each other are the basis of the Social Framework.

Simple version of the pathway


Local households


Local organisations


AMREF’s relationship with local organisations


AMREF’s internal functioning



More detailed version of the pathway


Local households


Local organisations’ relationship with local households


Local organisations’ internal functioning


AMREF’s relationship with local organisations


AMREF’s internal functioning


Donors’ relationships with AMREF


Donors’ internal functioning

It is not difficult to see some correspondence between these levels (especially in the first table) and the Logical Framework categories of Inputs, Activities, Outputs, Purpose and Goal. But talking in terms of specific categories of actors is much more tangible and communicable, especially across cultures. So, lets say goodbye to inputs, activities, outputs, etc, for the time being.

Moving on to the next column in the traditional Logical Framework, the Objectively Verifiable Indicators (OVIs), there is no reason why they cannot be used in this more Social Framework. Indicators could be identified for expected internal changes in each actor and for expected changes in their relationships with other adjacent actors in the Social Framework.

Moving on to the next column, the Means of Verificationn (MoV), this column function can also be retained, describing where and how information will be available about the expected changes. In addition, I suggest taking a more social view of this question. The MoV could describe who is expected to know about the changes described by the OVIs in the same row, because of their interests or responsibilities in this area. For example, the household row may have an indicator about households increased access to clean drinking water. In the OVI column in the same row, reference could be made to the Village Water Committee as a body who should know about changes of this type. Their knowledge and then their responses have implications for the sustainability of any improvements in water supply. This actor-oriented view implies the need for participatory approach, built around what people can and should be able to do in the way of monitoring. What is not needed is lists of disembodied items of information that might be found in a report or database somewhere.

Moving on to the next column, in the traditional Logical Framework we normally find Assumptions that refer to other factors that can influence the causal connection between events happening in adjacent rows. In the Social Framework I would suggest that this column describe assumptions about other actors, and the kind of influence that they are expected to have on the actor(s) described in the narrative row of this column (and vice versa).

The work of other NGOs in the same location may involve relationships with some of the actors in the pathways described in the Katine Social Framework. For example, the same government body, or the same community group. This could be flagged by a commentary in the Assumptions column This design flexibility contrasts with the rigidity of nested Logical Frameworks, where it is only possible to represent convergence of plans (Leading to pyramid like structures, with lots of things happening at the base, all converging on a few things at the top).

The Social Framework

This table below is a rough draft of what a Social Framework might look like for part of the Katine project in Uganda. This project is described in detail on the Guardian website.

Narrative description

- of expected changes in a pathway of influence

Objectively Verifiable Indicators (OVIs),

- evidence of expected change

Means of Verification (MoV),

- who should know about the OVIs


- about these and other actors

Expected changes in local households

e.g. indicators of access to safe drinking water, children's primary school participation, food sufficiency

e.g. village water committee, school management committee, village administration

e.g. the insurgents will not return again, force relocations and destroy property

Expected changes in local organisations’ relationship with local households

e.g. speed of repair of broken standpipes

e.g. village water committee, village administration

e.g. that local organisations will provide services equitably

Expected changes in local organisations’ internal functioning

e.g scores of weighted checklists re health clinic functioning

e.g. Health Unit Management Committee (HUMC)

e.g. that District Health Service will support implementation of HUMC recommendations

Expected changes in AMREF’s relationship with local organisations

e.g. AMREF will identify other NGOs who are also working with local organisations, cordinate plans with them and learn lessons re those groups

Expected changes in AMREF’s internal functioning

e.g. AMREF HQ will devolve right make public statements re the project

Expected changes in donors’ relationships with AMREF

e.g Existing donors will not prevent AMREF from seeking additional funding from other donors

Expected changes in donors’ internal functioning

e.g. Donors will be able to agree on desired outcomes of their relationship with AMREF

In complex development programmes people have tried to develop hierarchically nested Logical Frameworks, to show how different parts of a complex program connect to each other. But examples of these are not easy to find, despite the fact that there are many complex programmes in existence. In my experience, creating nested Logical Frameworks is not easy, and this may be the explanation for their scarcity.

Connecting up Social Frameworks to describe a more complex picture should be easier, because they have a modular structure. Each row describing an actor is in effect like a building block. These building blocks can be combined in different sequences. So, in addition to the pathway in the table above, a parallel Katine project pathway of influence could be Donors <-> AMREF <-> Ministry of Health <-> District Health Services <-> Local organisations <-> Local Households (actors in italics being part of other influence pathways already documented). This pathway could address the need for a parallel process of policy influencing at the national level, based on AMREF’s experience with local organisations in Katine. This pathway branches off then re-converges with the original pathway (See simple diagram version below)

As noted briefly above, each of the relationships connecting the actors in any part of the pathway is likely to involve two way communications and influence, unlike the one way causality in the Logical Framework. So messages can come back from households, via local organisations to AMREF, then go off to the Ministry of Health. Useful indicators in the AMREF row, could therefore include such developments as improved knowledge about the impact of central government policies on Katine households

PS: I have now updated the ideas describe above in a posting on MandE NEWS called The Social Framework as an alternative to the Logical Framework This is where all future developments of the idea can be found. So, please visit.