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Logframes….errrgh!

1. ergh: used when in a state of disgust, confusion, frustration, or convulsion. “ergh, I just threw up all over the keyboard.” “ergh, that’s wrong.” (from Urban Dictionary)

It’s proposal purgatory time at the aid agency where I’m currently working. And one of the joys, the inescapable joys of this time, is completing the accompanying logframes.

Knowing that I would have to help a variety of programs complete one-year (!) logframes in a uniform format as required by the donor would be one of my tasks last week, I did the most logical thing a person could do in this situation–I read up on and compiled a list of all the reasons logframes come up short. (This page, Working with the Logical Framework: Under duress or by desire, from MandE News was really helpful.)

Ok, maybe that’s not the most “logical” thing to do. But I do think that an understanding colleague is what most program folks need most to get through the frustration of this exercise, which in this case was ultimately about filling in the boxes, a hoop to jump through to obtain funding.

Don’t get wrong. I love a good logframe. I love the conceptual thinking (culturally-specific as it is) that goes into them. I love the concise representation of the key elements of a project. I love the articulation of what is supposed to happen, the results we’re after, and the assumptions we’re making, all providing a basis for M&E activities (though often not for organizational learning).

The predictable, linear, rational progression of activities is what can make a sound logframe clear and elegant. But this predictable, linear, rational progression of activities is also what can render a logframe useless in the context of providing relief and fighting poverty and injustice.

In spite of any amount of bellyaching on my or anyone’s part, the logical framework and the logical framework approach is not going away any time soon. Thus I think it’s important for aid workers to be aware of its purpose and its limitations.

First, let’s understand where logframes came from:

“Its origins lie in a planning approach for the US military, which was then adapted for the US space agency NASA before being adopted by USAID for development projects over thirty years ago. It was picked up by European development organisations in the 1980s and by the end of the 1990s the LFA (or an adapted form of it) had become the standard approach required by many donors for grant applications (Hailey & Sorgenfrei 2004: 7).” In “The use and abuse of the logical framework approach” by Oliver Bakewell and Anne Garbutt for SIDA, 2005.

If we’re honest, for most aid workers or grant seekers, completing a logframe is rarely an exercise that is completed in a participatory or even a consultative manner with the people we aim to serve. Logframes’ origin demonstrates why they are not tools that lend themselves easily to ongoing, participatory decision-making. Decisions are made by the generals. Logframes tell the soldiers what to do.

One of the most common criticisms of logframes is that they assume a constant environment and they do not (or cannot by their very nature) represent local realities. Rigid? Over-simplified? Yes. But remember logframes were originally used to move and deliver resources, to achieve an end, to carry out orders to defeat “the enemy.”

But what about the means to that end? There is certainly no place for descriptions of step-by-step processes in a logframe. No place to help us understand the relevance of the activities being carried out to those benefitting. No place to understand the relationship between vulnerability, assets, policies and politics. But if your army is trained coherently and responses to changing circumstances are entrusted to the chain of command, understanding how something happens must not be important for the implementers. This is not true however for development programs.

Any good aid program manager worth their salt knows that logframes are not sufficient in and of themselves for project planning and management. A data collection plan and ways to track and compare indicator measurements over time are necessary if there’s any chance of reporting results down the road. Only looking at a logframe when the proposal goes in and then again when the first report is due ends up in lots of “estimated” reporting of project results. (I’m working on an upcoming post on this issue. Hint to donors: It happens more often than you think, and most often it’s due to your impractical requirements.)

Obviously these are not new or revelatory insights. Ultimately, M&E and learning activities, including the results frameworks within logframes, have to be feasible and realistic given programmatic and on-the-ground realities. Luckily there are efforts underway by agencies to modify logframes to be more flexible and adaptive, as well as to quantify qualitative stories of change at the community level. When these efforts will influence donors and trickle down to alter people’s day-to-day work is yet to be seen.

The question is—how do we get beyond logframes’ use within the aid industry as merely a bureaucratic requirement? The challenge for aid workers, grant makers, and grant seekers is to ensure we are not just going through the motions with logframes, using them as a claim that we care about results rather than a tool to help achieve them.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be there to as a “technical support” to hold the hands of project managers, to continue to try to de-mystify logframes’ inherent concepts. I just hope that before then, they don’t throw up on their keyboards.

***

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14 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    I work for an NGO and as a side hobby, teach a Graduate Neuroscience course at Kenyatta University. I just assigned my students an assignment that could be considered a log-frame, except that Scientists actually USE the structure to guide them. It doesn’t get buried in a drawer.

    The analogous assignment is: Given one unique peer reviewed article I provide each student, read it and extract one open research question. Define the question, and propose one or more questions to derive an empirical answer. Find (via PubMed) at least 3 papers to serve as references for the method and justification for the design of the experiment.

    Is that too challenging for Kenyan Masters students?

    Seems to me the essential contrast is that LogFrames in Science force the scientist to take a deeper look at assumptions and analogous work of one’s peers.

    LogFrames in development remain an exercise in silo-ing and programatic isolation. What if every one of your LogFrames had to reference the work of at least three other organizations who’d tried to do something similar?

  2. 2

    I’m an odd one, I like making a log frame – but, I don’t like reading someone else’s. They seem to only make sense to the person that does the thinking through themselves, we all think in such different ways.

  3. 3

    Some of the most interesting comments from LinkedIn. Do you detect a developed/ing world split? And do read to the end – the last one from Malawi is a hoot:
    - From the Philippines: “If we love development we must embrace the tool…”
    - From San Francisco, CA, USA: “Strong structure on sand” and “required by the donor” ring especially true, in my experience. I hate the seductive visual placement of far-reaching goal and objectives so near to the observable indicator space for a limited-scope program. I hate an under-funded logframe development process. I hate the hypocritical moment, when a slick graphic matrix is released into the wild full of false promises.”
    - From Indonesia: “In my experience, logframes can be very frustrating OR very useful, depending on how you look at it and use it. I have worked on programmes where we have actively gone back to the logframe again and again both for monitoring our own project works and for amending things as necessary. I have also seen programmes where things get written in the first few months and then nobody follows up till the fourth year when it is last moment to finish all that is written and the person who comes in last [faces] the pressure, problems and tensions.”
    - From Washington DC, USA: “Does one love or hate a hammer or a screwdriver? No, of course, those are tools that allow you to complete a task. Logframes are the same, they are tools. The only difference is that they have to be thought about and designed for the task at hand. And that is why so many people have something against them: people are forced to think rationally…All in all, a lot more demanding that slapping together a bunch of activities…I have seen way too many logframes in project documents that are there only to meet a formal requirement and fail all tests for evidence of clear thinking.”
    - From Ireland: “templates need to be developed in a way to facilitate understanding of its interpretation if our projects and their outcomes have to be be understood by everyone regardless their academic or intellectual ability of understanding.”
    - From Kenya: “Only started using them recently. Vertical logic gets lost for me when i get to the inputs/activity level.”
    - From Canada: “the catch is that donor agencies have to be prepared to fund more extensive, expensive, and participatory design missions, and this is something they do only reluctantly.”
    - From Egypt: “love relationship when setting it up, hate relationship when measuring the performance”
    - From the Netherlands: “being member of some M&E related LinkedIn groups it is indeed remarkable, and sometimes frustrating, how the same questions keep popping up. So, this time about the logframes…it is not about the tools but how to handle them, full stop.”
    - From Senegal: ” logframes are like a good theory – they are compelling, but rarely meet reality or really work in practice. In the worst case, they become straight jackets and impede corrective action to projects for the sake of meeting a promise of delivery to the donor. How many project participants/beneficiaries have ever had the chance to participate in the development of a logframe?”
    - From Santa Fe, NM, USA: “Logframes are like a business plan; they help to ensure that you are thinking through issues. They should also be re-evaluated, like a good business plan, mid-way through to see if conception meets reality.”
    - From Uganda: “I was taught logframes at school and one time when I tried to introduce the topic among local communities / groups I work with in the villages, they completely got ‘lost’. The feeling was as if they had been locked inside a dark room. The jargon in it puts people off and one needs training to use the approach.”
    - From Chile: “I really love logframes, they always surprise you with things you never saw before.”
    - From Kenya: “it can be a tedious task more so when u have deadlines to beat”
    - From Switzerland: “No love. Nor hate. But like any tool, you have to be sure it’s right for the job. If you need a spanner, a hammer won’t do. So, no, I don’t blame the tool, but I do get impatient when it is used as if it were universally appropriate and to the exclusion of other approaches. That said, like all other development tools, logframes embody a worldview that is barely comprehensible in some socio-cultural contexts.”
    - From Rwanda: “I have done a number of evaluations of project where the indicators of the logframe are to be verified. In many cases, the indicators are not practical, no monitoring and reporting occurred that could verify the indicators, and many of them were more designed as PR for the project rather than being real impact indicators.”
    - From China: “Tension between indicator-driven required from the above and accountabilities to local communities (beneficiaries) is a routine dilemma/struggle.”
    - From Kyrgyzstan: “You mean the lock-frame? This inflexible tool which serves as a basis for contracts and can therefore not be easily adapted to the learning which happens during the project cycle? I have seen people and projects do activities which made no sense whatsoever, but they were written in the lock-frame some time ago, and therefore had to be completed to tick the box. An outdated tool, used in development work based on the assumption that you can solve wicked problems by design. We need flexible tools that allow learning and feedback loops. i.e. DCED standards, see http://www.enterprise-development.org/
    - From Malawi: “yah. I think our relationship is still cool although am planning to get a second wife by the name of Outcome Mapping whom I have been dating and observing for two years courtesy of IDRC”

  4. 4

    In the GlobalGiving Storytelling Project our “log frame” is much, much simpler. In fact, any NGO can complete one in 10 minutes via SMS and get an InstaValuation of how their goals align with community priorities and fit in the local NGO network.

    (0) Your org’s name
    (1) What is your mission? (i.e. the goal)
    (2) What is the problem you are trying to address?
    (3) What is the solution (i.e. the activities you are actually doing to address it?)
    (4) Locations where you work
    (5) Organizations you work with
    (6) your email — so we know where to send the report back to.

    Done.

    It may not be a “log frame” but it ain’t half baked thinking either, and nobody is dumbfounded by this line of questions.

  5. 5

    Hi – just wanted to say thanks for a great blog in general. I also want to recommend that you read Nick Harkaway’s ‘The Gone-Away World’ for some powerful reflections on what it means for people to be part of institutions. It also includes some thinly veiled critiques of development institutions. Anyway, a great read regardless but I’ve been thinking of your blog while I read it. Thanks again! Erin

  6. 6

    Great post, as usual!

  7. 7

    “First we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” ~Marshall McLuhan

  8. 8

    Hi Jennifer, I could really relate to this post (I’m a coordinator for donor relations..) – so much so that I blogged about it myself. It’s here: http://www.peaceportal/blogs (Logframes versus Reality?).
    Also thanks in general for some really good posts and reflections, I end up reading most of them and forwarding some of them on to colleagues and friends.
    jenny

  9. Emily Tanner #
    9

    I think that NGOs’ approach to filling out a logframe is one of the biggest flaws. At least at the organization where I work, the logframe is filled in only AFTER the activities are chosen – that is, the objectives and goals are decided based around the activities. The process of rational thinking is not involved until after the activities are chosen. This defeats the purpose of a logframe because your goal and objectives are the whim of whatever activities you want to do – you are not choosing solid activities in pursuit of a higher goal.

    That said, the previous comments about jargon are spot-on. The process to the logical framework – logical and rational thinking, if-then thinking – is good. But when you get people mixed up with inputs-outputs-results-objectives-goals, it can be really confusing. I think the best approach to project design is to work through the logframe without the little boxes in front of you. Design the program with this type of thinking in mind – if you want to achieve your goal, what needs to happen? How will you show it has been achieved? What actually needs to be DONE? Then, when it comes time to fill in the chart, it should be easy.

  10. 10

    Hi, I want to share a funny ‘log frame’ incident. I was a consultant for an organisation who were applying for overseas funding for their flagship scholarship program. The scholarship program was aiming at financially supporting ‘under privileged’ girls in India from High school level till they complete post-graduation. I was writing the proposal for them. The catch was that the donors had a set format and wanted us to fill up the log frames and I did not know how I could explain the donors and the organizations that their scholarship project, solely driven by ‘charity approach’ did not fit into the log frame in any way!! I had hard time conceiving and coming up with ‘indicators’ and let me tell you the limitations of log frame to go beyond the typical ‘development’ oriented projects, and of the donors to understand the difference between the two was really an interesting situation to deal with! As a consultant , I kept the little joke to myself ;)

  11. 11

    Most practitioners shiver when logframes are mentioned, yet some have found them to be genuinely useful. The thing is that under certain conditions, where there is sufficient predictability and stability, inside and around the system, and for shorter term projects, Logframes are fine.

    Essentially a logframe is a good tool for project or event management, whether short or long. But not for complex programme management.

    The trouble is that most social change conditions are, by their nature, rocky and unpredictable, for which a more nuanced and adjustable framwework and relationships are required to actively learn your way through the process.

    If donors need them for their back-donors then (as I tell them), hire a logframer to squeeze reality onto the boxes, but don’t mess things up where the action is.

    So let’s give logframes a small yay for when they are helpful and put them on the shelf when not.

  12. 12

    I found the logframe an expensive exercise but I also found it helpful in transiting the charity into development.
    The predicament of heavy investment for conception of a project when funding is not sure can be catered by building up a pool of already done LFAs (worldwide collection) at one place.
    I did adapted a LFA for child development from African context into South Asian one and it went well :-) )

  13. 13

    Here’s why I cross-post on LinkedIn…you never know who may weigh in:
    “The LogFrame was invented by Leon Rosemberg a NASA engineer under contract with USAID. One of fthe first important applications in the developing world was in Bolivia 1979-1981, under a contract of the Bolivian Government. I know of no management tool that has had such a a positive impact in ministries and agencies of economic and social development around the world despite its flaws and misuse.”
    Enrique
    Former Vice Minister for Regional Development Ministry of Planning of Bolivia 1982

  14. 14

    For me Log Frame is a confiding box……perhaps a very good tool for project M&E. It would be nice to bring up the beneficiaries to participate in its development and collect their mind in this box. Then it can be a tool for participatory approach in development era than telling the beneficiaries what they want and do……….


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