Case Study: College Success In-Sight Dives Head-First into Logic Models

Image: Rows of young people wear graduation caps and gowns. Author: StockSnap. Source: https://pixabay.com/en/people-men-women-graduation-school-2562626/

Image: Rows of young people wear graduation caps and gowns. Author: StockSnap. Source: https://pixabay.com/en/people-men-women-graduation-school-2562626/

Consider the importance of your operating model as part of aligned Operational Layers. What happens when it is not embedded in your governance structure?

In this case, we’ll consider the (fictional) organization College Success In-Sight, an organization that helps high school students prepare for, apply to, and succeed during college. Several years ago, its leadership began focusing on logic models, which had been widely promoted by funders, consulting firms, and thought leaders and are now a regular part of many students’ college experience. It seemed like a perfect opportunity engage two interns who were alumni of the organization’s programs. The interns conducted a literature review, met with staff, and talked to some other alumni of the program, and put together a logic model. After a few iterations, it was deemed complete - it represented the program’s inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes. It was a high-quality document that the leadership was pleased to share with funders and hand out at team meetings.

The next things to happen may not come as a surprise… There was a leadership conversation about focusing on an outcomes measurement initiative, using the logic model as a foundation; but lack of coordination slowed the process. Outcomes measurement seemed to “belong” to every department and to none at the same time; department leads consistently shared ideas but limits on their experience and bandwidth, and a general discomfort with “putting a stake in the ground” in such a new area stalled any real action. Over time, the organization moved on to other initiatives, developing a strategic plan, building an intern program, and more. And the beautiful logic model remained as it was… sound familiar?

At first, the logic model seemed to pull everyone together, even across commonly divided departments, such as fundraising and programs, since they had a common language. And interns and new staff were excited by reviewing it, since it showed organizational sophistication and was a useful onboarding tool. But over time, staff figured out what you already know happens in such a situation - the logic model was a stand-alone tool, not consulted or modified as strategy and the environment changed.

The initial excitement and mission-connection staff felt dissipated as they began to think they’d been fooled into joining an effort that was at least in part superficial. Turnover grew and silos between departments who thought they had a common language got more pronounced - program and development contribution to funder reports became less aligned, and hiring managers looked for entirely different “drives” of staff applicants. The leadership had seemed to “do it all right,” investing in a sophisticated strategy and up-to-date logic model and getting funder support and encouragement for these actions. But perhaps they missed alignment along the way, which might result in some pain points with key stakeholders:

  • Staff disillusionment, as they came to think they’d poured their passions, talent, and time into an effort that was partly superficial.

  • Burnout for the Executive Director, who’d “given all she had” to the steps she’d taken to enable the organization to grow, yet progress seem stalled at the idea stage.

Fortunately, organizations can develop and utilize operating models as a core part of their structure, resolving these consequences and strengthening their core.


Learn more about the concepts and theory behind this case study in the post “Operational Layers: Operating Model.