The logical framework approach (LFA) is widely used as a standard approach for planning and monitoring NGO projects. A growing body of work assesses how well it works, including consistent criticism.
The approach is based on a 4 x 4 framework with ‘activities’, ‘outputs’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘impact’ down the vertical axis and ‘narrative’, ‘indicators’, ‘means of verification’ and ‘assumptions’ across the horizontal axis.
On the one hand, the framework meets the needs of powerful decision-makers to have a simple summary of plans and indicators. It also appears to link activities to long term social change. However these links are often aspirational.
On the other hand, LFA assumes change is linear and predictable, cannot handle political differences and is closed to unintended consequences. It tends to exaggerate NGOs’ influence. Research has shown that its use tends to reduce local control and ownership.
“… the LFA tends to over-specify objectives and to over-emphasize control as opposed to flexibility.”
“Since the focus of LFA is on achieving intended effects via intended routes, its utility for monitoring & evaluation is rather limited.”
“It is often difficult for different actors to agree on terms like output or outcome because they are not naturally occurring divisions in time. It is particularly difficult to communicate this way of thinking to actors with different … cultural backgrounds.” Richard Hummelbrunner, 2010
Tina Wallace carried out 10 years of research into how logframes are used in practice by NGOs and found:
“… the majority of NGO staff indicated that they did not refer to the logframes once funding was secured and implementation began. … What is written is often divorced from reality, both at the planning and reporting stages of the cycle. … The plans and guidelines often prove irrelevant at best, distorting at worst, and do little to support or enhance the development work being undertaken.” Tina Wallace, 2006
In the 1980s the German and UK government aid agencies, GTZ and DFID, both introduced logframes as a standard tool for planning projects. Over 20 years later, in the late 2000s, DFID found that the expected benefits of logframes were not being realised. They issued another set of revised guidelines. GTZ has gone further and reduced logframes to one among 40 tools that might be relevant to different situations. (Jacobs et al, 2010)
- Hummelbrunner “Beyond logframe: Critique, variations and alternatives” in “Beyond logframes; using systems concepts in evaluation” ed Fujita, FASID, 2010
- Wallace “The aid chain”, Practical Action Publishing, 2006
- Jacobs, Barnett & Ponsford “Three approaches to monitoring”, IDS Bulletin 41.6, 2010
- Bakewell & Garbutt “The use and abuse of the logical framework approach” SIDA, 2005
- Smutylo “Crouching impact, hidden attribution“, IDRC, 2001
- Ebrahim “NGOs and organisational change” Cambridge, 2003