Program Logic

The program logic framework, also known as the program theory or program impact theory, is commonly used in program evaluation to help stakeholders clarify the logic of a program’s design, implementation, intended outcomes and how those outcomes will be achieved. It typically consists of a series of linked boxes that represent the program’s objectives, inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, assumptions, and threats.

Here are 3 examples of program logic templates (click on the image below for the PDF):




A copy of these templates and more information can be found at the following:

  1. Queensland Government Program Evaluation Guidelines
  2. The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care Healthy Food Partnership – Program Logic
  3. The Australian Institute of Family Studies How to develop a program logic for planning and evaluation

By using the program logic framework, program designers and evaluators can:

  • Identify the underlying assumptions and theories of change that guide the program’s design
  • Clarify the program’s goals and intended outcomes
  • Identify potential barriers or challenges to achieving the program’s outcomes
  • Determine the data needed to evaluate the program’s effectiveness
  • Develop a shared understanding of the program among stakeholders

Overall, the program logic framework can help to ensure that programs are well-designed and implemented, and that they are effectively meeting the needs of their intended beneficiaries.

How can you use the START map to create and inform program logic?

By using the START map in conjunction with the program logic framework, you can create a more comprehensive understanding of the food retail system and the potential impacts of your program. This can help you to design and implement a program that is more effective at achieving its intended outcomes while minimising unintended consequences. It can also help you to evaluate the program’s effectiveness over time and to continuously improve the program’s design and implementation. An example of how to do this is provided in the table below which follows a program logic template.

Here’s an example of how you can use the program logic framework and the START map within the context of a food retail system where a café owner is trying to make healthy changes to their menu. Let’s say the retailer wants to replace high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, like deep fried foods, with healthier options, such as those based on fruits and vegetables. Click here to view a copy of the CREATE Program Logic example.

Step 1: Define the program objectives

Objective(s) To increase the availability and sales of healthy food options in the café retailer.
The underlying issue is that the retailer is resistant to making changes as they are worried that customers will not like the new healthier offerings, and that they will lose money. In this situation, we see the narrative loops of “Get started now” and “Focus on the customer” potentially playing out.

Step 2: Identify the program inputs

Inputs are the resources needed to deliver the program. For this example you could consider the following:

Inputs / resources
People: Retailer, staff, customers (different kinds of customers)
Funding: What resources might you have to support changes? E.g. accessing existing materials that communicate changes to customers
Time: Looking at the Focus on the Customer narrative loop, we can see that customer behaviours won’t change instantly, and we might get some initial backlash when making changes, that recede over time. How might that impact your approach?
Knowledge: The retailer and retail staff will have a good understanding of who their customers are and how they are likely to respond to change. By getting staff on board with the changes, they can help persuade  customers to try new options.
Networks: Who do you need to establish partnerships or connections with? This could be suppliers of healthy products, local health organisations or focus groups to engage customers in real-time feedback on changes.
Places / spaces: This could include locations to hold workshops or seminars as well as space in the cafe for new healthy items, and storage space if the retailer is introducing more fresh produce that may require different storage needs than current stock.
Equipment: What equipment will you need to deliver the program? This could be hardcopies of the Healthy Retail Toolkit, electronic notepads to help the retailer in real-time. Other equipment to consider could be display refrigerators for pre-prepared fresh foods, kitchen equipment or promotional displays highlighting new/healthier choices.
Partner organisations: Who else has made these changes before and what can you learn from them? Do they have resources or approaches that you  can use?


Step 3: Identify the activities and their associated outputs

What activities will be part of your program? What will be done by the time the program is finished? Will these activities lead to outcomes? Be mindful that outputs are those things that are delivered, while outcomes are the changes that will occur.

Inputs / resources Activities Outputs
People Build a relationship with the retailer and their staff to understand their perspectives, interests and concerns. Building of trust with retailer and staff.
Funding Seek to understand what small changes they would be willing to make. Understanding of each others perspectives.
Time Conduct a customer survey or interview to understand what the cutomers like about the retail outlets, what could be improved, and what healthy options they would be interested in. Options for creating small changes in the retail outlet.
Knowledge Plan how you would feed back changes to the retailer. Increased healthy options for staff.
Networks Develop or access marketing materials to promote healthy changes to customers. Customer feedback on healthier options.


Step 4: Identify key outcomes

Think about the short, medium and long-term outcomes of your program. Outcomes, or impacts, are what is different as a result of your activities and should be linked to your objective(s). By identifying the key outcomes you can evaluate the success of the program and assess whether it has achieved its intended goals. You can also use this information to make adjustments to the program if necessary, to ensure that it is having the desired impact. Here are some short-medium and long-term outcomes for the example.

Outcomes Short-Medium Outcomes Long-term
Increase in healthy options being purchased. Continuous movement towards healthier options.
Increased buy-in of retailers on healthy changes.
Interest of retailer in making further healthy changes. Staff and retailer on board with healthy options and new staff are trained accordingly.
Support of customers for healthy options. Expectation of customers for healthy and varied options.
No profit impacts on retail outlet. Ongoing financial stability of retail outlet.
Considerations for future changes and improvements to communications with customers.


Step 5: Identify assumptions and external factors

Assumptions come from our mental model of how the system works. What are your assumptions about how or why the program will work? What could be the assumptions of other stakeholders? It’s also important to be aware of external factors, those things that fall outside your control but can impact your program.

  • Healthy changes are profit neutral and generally acceptable to customers
  • Retailer has the potential to be engaged in healthy food retail changes
  • Some capacity for the pracitioner to support retailer and customer engagement in changes
External factors
  • Cost of food and drink
  • Availability of food/drink options and ingredients
  • Competition


Click here to view a copy of the above CREATE Program Logic example

Identifying unintended consequences

To help identify potential unintended consequences you may encounter, you can use the START map to see where the reinforcing feedback loops are (R); this is where an action leads to a reinforcing cycle that strengthens the outcome. Now look for the balancing feedback loops (B); this is where an action leads to a counterbalancing cycle that works against the outcome. Click here to review how to read a systems map or here for the five narratives of the START map.

One potential unintended consequence in this example is that the healthy options may take more staff time to prepare than the less healthy options, which could lead to a decline in sales and profitability. This could lead to a reinforcing cycle where the retailer reduces the amount of healthy options available or promotes less healthy options to maintain profitability. Another potential unintended consequence is that the fresh produce may spoil quickly, which could lead to waste and a decline in profitability. This could lead to a reinforcing cycle where the retailer reduces the amount of fresh produce available or stops stocking it altogether.

By looking at the feedback loops, you can identify potential unintended consequences of the program, and design the program so they are minimised. For example, the retailer could work with suppliers to negotiate better prices for healthy options or invest in more effective refrigeration to reduce waste. This can help to ensure that the program has a positive impact on the intended beneficiaries while minimising any unintended negative consequences.


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