Monday, May 23, 2005

Using "modular matrices" to describe programme intentions and achievements

There has been an interesting discussion about the pros and cons of Logical Frameworks, on the MandE NEWS mailing list. One participant has expressed concerns about the unrealistic expectations many people have about the use of the Logical Framework. We should not expect it to do everything. It is supposed to be a summary. To be read along side narrative accounts which can be as detailed as needed.

My response was to point out that there was some usable middle ground between long narrative accounts and tables that attempted to summarise a whole programe in a four by four set of cells. The middle ground is what I now call a "modular matrix approach" (MMA). Google defines
"modular” as follows: “Equipment is said to be modular when it is made of "plug-in units" which can be added together to make the system larger, improve the capabilities, or expand its size”

So a Gantt chart can be seen as a modular unit, because it can build onto and extend the LogFrame. It can do this because it has one common dimension: a set of Activities. Another module that I have seen used in association with the LogFrame is a matrix of Outputs x Actors (using the outputs). Here the Outputs are the common dimension that links this matrix and a LogFrame.

In the last year or so I have experimented with a range of modules, some of which have proved more useful than others. Ideally, this development process would be a collective enterprise, such that what emerged was a public library of usable planning modules. Some, like the Logframe, would offer a very macro perspective. Others, such as an Activity x Activity module, can provide a more micro perspective on work processes within single organisations.

When developing new matrix modules I use the social network analysis convention, that cell contents should describe the relationship from the row actor to the column actor. The actors involved are listed down the left column and across the top row. In practice I also use documents (produced by actors) and events (involving actors). Such matrices allow the representation of networks of communications and influence, not just one directional chains of cause and effect.

A second important convention that I try to follow, implicit in the above description, is that the entities listed on the two axes of such matrices should be verifiable, either by interviewing them (if they are actors) or reading them (if they are documents) or reading about them (if they are events). This will then allow us to establish if the links between them were planned, and eventuated, as described. There are probably other conventions that could be developed to enure that matrix modules developed by different people are compatable, and can add value to the whole.

For some recent practical experiments along these lines see this paper. In the near future I hope to provide a comprehensive summary of this approach, in a paper provisionally titled "From Logical to Network Frameworks: A Modular Approach to Representing Theories of Change" This paper will be publicised via the Network Evaluation and MandE NEWS mailing lists.