Tag Archives: Social Impact

Can logic models work for you?

The “logic model” is a tool that is widely used in public and social sector initiatives. Like any tool, there are obvious on-target applications (e.g. hammer for inserting nail) as well as more creative applications (e.g. hammer to open a paint can). In all cases, the user is responsible for picking the right tool for the application. To me, there is relevance for the logic model in the private sector because this tool can expose assumptions (logical or not) and bring rigour to the thinking. Here is a quick primer on logic models, followed by some suggestions on if/how/when to use it for your business.

USEFUL VOCABULARY

Theory of Change: this is a set of fundamental assumptions that underpin a line of reasoning. This is often referred to in solving large social issues like homelessness or poverty. Relevance to a private sector context could be, for example, an ad agency president believes that to be successful, her team has to know our clients business better than they do. She believes sees her team as “providers of insight” rather than “meeters of needs.”

Logic Model: a framework that allows you to portray the specific linkages of your reasoning from the resources you expend to the final impact that you will have. The model takes into account the linkages between four fundamental components:

  • Inputs – These are resources that we control and choose to deploy toward the end objective. This is usually about money and time. Energy fits in here, too.
  • Outputs – This is what we create or produce or get from expending the “input” resources. This could be a report, the provision of a service, creation of some capacity, etc.
  • Outcomes – What we get helps us out in some way. This is the specific way in which it helps us out. We are better able to do something or something is improved because of the output created from the inputs.
  • Impact – This is the higher order calling of the whole endeavour. What did we set out to address in the first place? This is what we were after all along.

WORKING EXAMPLE

The thing about logic is that it can seem both commonsensical and obvious, while also seeming a bit opaque. To alleviate the latter, here is a quick example: Our agency leader (who believes that “provider of insight” is the way to success) might have the following idea.

Let’s get some of our junior staff to work on developing industry reports that capture both analyst information, as well as “chatter” from social networks. They will create an overview document as a summer project, and monitor/update on an ongoing basis. Our senior account people will refer to these before client meetings, and also share insights gained from the direct client interaction.

Breakdown using Logic Model:

  • Inputs – Junior staff hours in creating foundational document and ongoing monitoring (hours); Senior account staff time in inputting client insights (hours)
  • Outputs – The actual document, once it is created. The document is actually updated.
  • Outcomes – Senior account staff go to meetings with broad industry knowledge that they use to: (1) demonstrate knowledge to clients; (2) share value-adding insights; (3) initiate strategic conversations, etc.
  • Impact – Clients will use us more

Note: The understood “we hope” as a qualifier gets louder with each step of the model.

USING THE TOOL

Really thinking through these connections demands a good degree of effort and will: what do we want to “impact”? And how we will actually go about getting there? To illustrate the difficulty, recall the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Remember, this space is the sweet spot of the logic model). This was a huge success in gaining awareness (Mel B. did the challenge on America’s Got Talent!), but you may still ask: “So what? Are those afflicted by ALS better off? If so, how?” You can imagine that asking such questions without being labelled as “doubter,” “hater,” “loser,” etc., would be no mean achievement. This is an inherent challenge of such models. People don’t like to have the gaps in their logic exposed.

To use this tool effectively, leadership has to be comfortable explaining their logic (e.g. “provider of insight” beats “meeter of needs) and the followership has to be comfortable trying it out (if they don’t believe it in the first place).

Building the connections between the elements is an important exercise. You end up asking really good questions, for example:

Input to output questions: What are we getting for all these hours that we have put into research?

Output to outcomes: Is our new report, tool, capacity, etc. actually contributing to something that we are using, noticing, applying, etc.?

Outcomes to impact: Is our idea of the “means to the end” actually playing out? What do we really want here? What are we trying to achieve anyway?

This is the kind of thinking that goes into our “performance playbook” process to help ensure that the measures you are choosing hang together with the logic under which you are operating.

 

Results-Based Development (Under the hood of Aligning Interests)

In many different contexts, we see examples of competition contributing to higher performance. For competition in business, we can draw and important distinction between “good competition” and “bad competition,” which is sometimes under emphasized. As I understand it, “good competition” creates an environment where everyone has to “up their game” to remain competitive. As evidence that “the market works,” we would see examples of customers benefiting from competition because organizations have to work harder and smarter to remain in business. Conversely, “bad competition” creates an environment that destroys long-term value in the name of “winning” or “surviving.” In such scenarios, organizations harm the sector and themselves in a “race to the bottom.” Such scenarios also have organizations engage in ethically questionable behaviour to “win at all costs.”

To start, let’s assume that “good competition” is indeed possible. Let’s further assume that for it to work, it requires that parties share an understanding of what “good” they are trying to accomplish.

For businesses, making money is “good,” but so are other forms of benefit: safer automobile travel (Toyota), or sustainable practices (Unilever). Governments are expected to think more about the greater “good,” and as a specific illustration, let me use community health-care in Ontario.  Let’s say that “good” in this context is “efficiency in delivering necessary services to patients,” or something that balances provision of necessary services within fiscal constraints. As is the current practice, the government-funded payment to service providers for some activities can be attached to a result or outcome:  a service provider is given a lump sum to achieve a specific outcome (e.g. heal a wound). If they can complete the task more efficiently, profit is theirs. If it happens to take longer or more resources, the provider spends those resources, but can’t come back to the funder for more money. If this works, tax-payers in Ontario get better bang for their collective buck, and patients get high quality care; wins all around.

This same type of arrangement could work in a non-governemnt context as long as the service provider is at least partially interested in the same definition of “good.” This creates “good competition, and efficient organizations that do good work will succeed.

Slide1The realm of “bad competition” can be peppered with “perverse incentives,” whereby, for example, a service provider could legitimately want a patient to stay sick, or at very least, err too much on the side of caution and so as to go wildly offside with a “fiscal responsibility” effort. This is the potentially very ugly underbelly of the public-sector contracting out to the private sector. In a consulting relationship, this can create, for example, an incentive to run-up the billable hours.

Slide2 again

 

Setting goals and objectives that promote shared accountability is extremely tricky. From my experience, the real trick is to align activity to a common purpose (e.g. the “good”), and I will go as far to say that without a shared interest, collaboration of this nature is impossible because the result will actually create “bad” competition.

 

Do the right thing vs. Don’t do anything wrong

There is a fantastic “smartest-guy-in-the-room” scene from the movie Apollo 13. U.S. astronauts are stranded in space aboard a damaged spacecraft; chaotic discussion ensues until “John” emerges, confident and clean-cut, to point the way: It’s about power. Without power nothing else works. Conserve power and they have a chance.

Fast forward through the great scene where they construct an air filter using only on-board materials (Relax, they had duct tape). Failure was not an option and the mission succeeds. The astronauts return to Earth.

Such scenes can be heartwarming in that the person who knew what they were talking about (the expert) was able to convince important people (boss and group) to do right thing, and the result was success. In the context of an obvious crisis, the “right thing” becomes clear. In many instances, such disagreements as whether or not we even have a crisis (e.g. climate change) make it very difficult to have the “right-thing” discussion, let alone how we will judge success.

This week at Ryerson University, I attended an event that explored this idea of “doing right thing,” and also waded into who are the “right people” to be doing it, namely leaders in government and in corporations. The entire talk is here.

Here are some of my high points:

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page described his role, which struck me as similar to “John” in the Apollo 13 clip. It was his job to generate good information for decision makers. He did not have the luxury of operating in an obvious crisis, which is the lot of anyone doing 75-year financial projections. His overriding mission (e.g. success) was: “we want to have a prosperous country.”

Note: In his commentary, Sheldon Levy aptly names such a clear focus a personal “North Star.”

Kevin spoke of standing on principle, and I got the sense that he would have been able to defend every single action that he took as contributing to “a prosperous country” or identifying the risk of actions that threatened that pursuit. For him, this was the divide between right and wrong, which appeared to give focus to his role and purpose. This was not about securing his personal career, so there would be no pandering to partisan influences. His calling was higher. He and his team sought out experts to get accurate costing on plans that would cost a lot of money. Things that cost a lot of money have a greater chance of impacting long-term prosperity. The logic is unflappable.

He seemed genuinely surprised at the propensity of elected officials to make decisions without understanding the impact. If a reasonable person faced a policy decision that brought long-term implications (e.g. changes in court sentencing that would see more people serve time in penitentiaries), this reasonable person would want to know how much it cost, wouldn’t they?

It turns out the answer was sometimes, “No,” which is a natural human response.

  • When you take the student loans for education, do you really want to know how long you will be debt-laden?
  • When you buy the membership to the gym, do you really want to know who little you will use it?
  • When you celebrate with a steak dinner, red wine and cheesecake, do you really want to know how long you will have jog to burn it all off?

He also described an environment of fear, which was echoed in Maryantonett Flumian’s comments. She seemed to be asking: “When did ‘do the right thing’ give way to ‘don’t do anything wrong’?” She lamented a shift from internally driven principles and ethics to externally imposed rules and regulations. Will we return to these good old days?

Chris MacDonald at Ryerson curated an exceptional event. These conversations will continue and have as much implication for individuals as they do for the governments, corporations and other organizations that employ people. We look forward to the continued dialogue.

 

Profits and purpose: what really matters? (Survey Insights part 4)

The BBC published an article on Abraham Maslow this week describing the impact of the hierarchy of needs that bears his name. Any social psychology or organizational behaviour course will touch on this in trying to explain the motivators and needs that have people do what they do.

Like many such frameworks, their utility in explaining/predicting the actions of others tends to fall short. It becomes an endless guessing game of rationalizing conscious decisions and analyzing subconscious yearnings. We are going to move the focus to: “me, and what I want” not “them, and what they want.”

In our Summer Survey, we asked:

“If individuals were looking for a sense of purpose from their professional life, to what degree does your organization provide that?”

NOTE: If you don’t subscribe to the “purpose need” theory, you debunk this whole line of thought. People want money; pay them and they work. Pay them more and they work harder. We will address this later.

The results were not unexpected. At the leadership level of the organization, the “purpose need” appears to be fulfilled: one third report that the purpose is “obvious” and more than half say people could find it in different ways.

Further down the organization, the results are opposite. The number of people who report being “here to work” (e.g. absence of purpose beyond Maslovian survival) grows to one-third at the middle-tier level, and to more than half at the lowest levels of the organization.

One explanation for employees not taking the opportunity to be more invested, involved, and engaged with their work is that the organization is not being clear or consistent enough about how their work matters.

For a moment, let’s put the onus on leadership to declare a preference for the kind of success they will pursue. Yes, we want to be profitable, but our self-imposed constraints (e.g. constraints we select not restrictions/rules to which we comply) reveal what matters most and may embody one’s sense of purpose.

So this could give you:

  • a bank that is committed to keeping jobs in the local economy
  • an oil-and-gas company committed to reducing the effects of carbon emissions
  • a fast-food company committed to educating consumers on nutrition

Do any of these “commitments” sound familiar?

The internal audiences will be most attuned to inconsistency because they will see (or suspect) what really drives decisions and what lines a being stretched or crossed. Inconsistency is a breeding ground for cynicism and could be a reason for disengagement such that you report being “here to work.” The rubber hits the road when an organization takes a decision consistent with a “commitment” and appears to forego profit maximization in the short-term.

  • If your organization is poised-to grow, would investors or shareholders support such a commitment?
  • If you are competing for talent, would good employees reward you with loyalty?
  • If you are competing for funding dollars, could this build your credibility with foundations and with public sector funders?

In all cases, there will be some important parties who don’t agree or don’t care.  The better question is “Would you get enough support for you to succeed?” and “What could you do to gain the support of those who need to see results?” Selecting the right measures and delivering results will be fundamental to your success.

Stay tuned for the next post where we shift the focus to the rank-and-file responsibilities.

Finding Good “Measures of Success”

I had the good fortune to attend the “Measuring Performance in the Social Sector: Essential or Impossible?”  panel discussion called hosted by the Schulich School of Business last month. Forums such as this one truly demonstrate the value of the “Schulich Community.” Brenda Gainer curated a fascinating panel of practitioners in socially-minded organizations. The well-attended evening also featured Dr. Alnoor Ebrahim, a former Torontonian, who is an Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.

The following are my big “take-aways” from the discussion.

As a consultant to practitioners, I found the discussion on selecting measures most applicable to client situations that I have seen. Dr. Ebrahim suggested that there are two fundamental questions to consider in selecting an appropriate measurement by which to judge your organization:

  1. How certain isf the causality you assign to your activities achieving the desired impact?
  2. What are the limits of your control in affecting that impact?

These are not easy questions to answer, but, if addressed sincerely, will spur a valuable discussion in any organizational context.

The “limit of control” part of the model mirrors the elements present in a logic model: inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact. For example: If the impact I am after is a cleaner environment in an urban centre, I could pursue an outcome of less landfill waste by running blue box programs (outputs). For this I would need money (inputs) to buy boxes, to promote use and enable distribution.

That example is oversimplified to illustrate the components. There could be violent disagreement as to whether something is an “outcome” or an “impact,” which transitions us into the “causal uncertainty” discussion. This is where the “theory of change” thinking is reflected. For example, Plan Canada’s “Because I am a girl” initiative links providing education for females in the developing world to a myriad of issues. According to The Public Health Agency of Canada, there is a strong link between “childhood vaccination” and “reduction of certain preventable illnesses.” If I understand the approach correctly, asking the question is not disputing the assumptions, but merely illustrating that some links have more empirical backing than others. Again, you can imagine the type of colourful conversation that could ensue with different stakeholder groups or even within one organization.

Once the dust settles on these discussions, you many find your organization “fits” in one of four general areas.

General Area #1 – Raise awareness to the problem even though there’s no clear solution

  • Grid position:        HIGH causal uncertainty/Control stops at Input and Output
  • Description:          “We can’t be sure that it works directly, but we think it is worth doing what we are doing to get the impact we want.”
  • Useful measure:   Measure your degree of influence over powerful stakeholders

General Area #2 – We will do more good by better doing what we do

  • Grid position:           LOW causal uncertainty/Control stops at Input and Output
  • Description:             “We know what we are doing works in delivering the impact that we want. We control how the resources are deployed.”
  • Useful measure:      Measure your output and your efficiency.

General Area #3 – Share information to figure out our impact

  • Grid position:            HIGH causal uncertainty/Control continues to Outcomes
  • Description:             “We have the means to control outcomes, but connecting what we do to the final impact is difficult.”
  • Useful measure:       Collaborate with others to find meaningful measures of impact.

General Area #4 – The goal is clear and we need to establish a common scoreboard

  • Grid position:            LOW causal uncertainty/Control continues to Outcomes
  • Description:             “The impact is clear. There are others involved in helping us get there.”
  • Useful measure:       Use integrated measures and an integrated approach.

CAUTION: In reading this article you are getting my thoughts on a framework that is currently under development. That said, the conversations about causality and control are very good to have. I will suggest that they may also be difficult to have because the questions challenge what might be institutional truths. Don’t be shy about asking for help!