Reshaping the Clay

In my work, I spend a good deal of time creating and analyzing logic models. These charts — most often oriented in a series of columns- are designed to give a snapshot of a program or initiative that aligns the inputs (resources involved) and activities (actions taken) with the anticipated outputs and outcomes (or results). Logic models are mandated by many funders to force their grantees to think sequentially, to act strategically, and to (theoretically) measure what matters. I find them generally to be useful tools, except for one small thing:

The world has a way of screwing up our perfectly-crafted logic models.

The clear lines of a logic model between “do this” and “accomplish that” make sense in a vacuum. In a sterilized laboratory, we can isolate the input variables and control for the outcomes. We can set a goal and take an action with minimal fear of contamination.

Most of us, however, don’t work (or live) in laboratories. Those of us dedicated to long-term community change find an ever-evolving cacophony of inputs, unforeseen assumptions, and winds of change that often take our pretty logic and scatter it haphazardly across the front lawn. These disruptions are often frustrating. They can lead to tough questions and feelings of failure. Yet sometimes they lead to better things than we had originally imagined. As painful as it is, disruption can create opportunities and open new doors of possibility that were inconceivable in our initial thinking.

The trick here is to recognize the disruption as the norm and the logical order as a useful illusion. It is to think of our models as an artist, who when the fancies change, takes the ball of clay and reshapes it into what it must be here and now.

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