Bottom Up Logic

One of the great inventions of The New Development Paradigm (TNDP) is the LogFrame. It provides a link between a concrete activity (which we can control) and a desired effect within the broader system (which we can influence at best). As a framework based on logic it overcomes the limitations of acting out of ideology or belief, but does not negate the role of culture.


My understanding is that it was created by USAID in 1969, the same year as the landing on the moon. It provides a format that sets out the logical relationship between an ‘Activity’ (Space program) an ‘Output’ (such as ‘Moon Landing’) and an ‘Outcome’ (such as ‘Americans feel good about themselves’). The ‘Outcome’ being the important part of TNDP. In between the ‘Output’ and ‘Outcome’ is the ‘Strategy’, which in simple terms is the thinking behind the logic. In this instance it might have been ‘Demonstration of US technical capability’.

In it’s original format, each layer of logic contained both a method of measurement and also the assumptions behind each.

Level of Logic   Assumptions
Outcome American Sense of Pride That people would feel good about such a feat
Strategy Demonstrate US technical capability That there are no glitches
Output  Man on Moon That it is technically possible
Activity NASA space program That there would be the $$ available

Over the years the LogFrame has become both a core element of International Development Programs, and also highly reviled. I’ve been wondering if the derision is because a common (but unstated) ‘assumption’ is that other peoples values are the same as ours. In other words, there is an assumption that no longer having to go to the river to collect water, but having a water point within 300m will be a cause of great happiness. It does not allow that perhaps something more important would be having the opportunity to talk with friends whilst walking to the river.

Some examples of how the logic stacks up, but only if the assumption is that the values of those providing the service or describing the logic and the beneficiary are the same.

Consider five scenarios each starting with the same goal or outcome: ‘Having a happy family”. In each case the logic is a reflection of the ideology or values of the person developing the plan.

  • Water Engineer: Achieve your Goal of a happy family, with having easy access to fresh water (Strategy). This requires a reticulated water system (Output) and you should volunteer to dig the trenches this afternoon.
  • Health Advocate:To achieve your Goal of a happy family, requires that they have access to a good health service (Strategy). This means having a doctor in town (Output) and you should sign this petition for one right now. (Action)
  • Politician (elected representative):To achieve your Goal of having a happy family, requires them to be well represented (Strategy). Thus you should elect me to represent you, (Output) and an action you could take is to vote for me today.

In each case the logic works well. The problem is that none of them are ours.  I was advised by a colleague the other day that ‘being happy’ was such a Western concept. For Africans, she told me, survival is what is important.

By structuring the log frame in response to a different reality to ours this then helps explain the logic behind something that we might find illogical. An example being how a beneficiary gives away half the free seeds and fertiliser provided by an Aid Agency that was to ensure that the family would have enough food for the whole year.

Level of Logic Description Assumptions
Outcome Better chance of survival Outsiders (Aid agencies) come and go. 
Strategy Enhance and build on my social capital That if a child gets sick, it will be the neighbours that will help. 
Output  Insufficient seeds to grow food for whole of year.  But more than before when I had nothing
Activity Give half of allocated free seed and fertiliser to friends and neighbours They will be happy with what I am offering, and will help me in the future

Facilitator: The logic of the facilitative approach is based on the assumption that your values are different to mine. The Technology of  Participation process, (which evolved out of reconstruction activities in the aftermath of the Chicago Race riots of the early 1970’s), enables the logframe to be developed by the one who owns the problem. The role of the facilitator is to ask the questions in an order that generates the answers by participants.

Level of Logic Question Notes
Outcome What is your goal? To have a happy family/To survive etc.
Strategy What are the underlying blockages to that ? A simpler way of answering than ‘what is your strategy’?
Output What concrete, actionable, time bound things could you do to overcome this blockage?  The output, which is the limit to what we can actually do
Activity What Actions do you need to do to achieve the output?  The ‘step by step’ actions to complete the task

If there is a need to put the LogFrame developed this way into a funding proposal or report, simply change the answer provided to the Strategy Question from a negative to a positive and call it ‘Strategy’ e.g.: ‘Enhance and build on my social capital’ could have come from the answer ‘I owe a lot to my friends and neighbours’.





Everyday complexity

A wonderful characteristic of European cities is the layers of history piled on top of each other. Modern technological on top of Renaissance art on top of medieval piety on top of Roman paganism. Here in Malawi it seems to all exist at the same time, right now, in real time.

Everyday medieval market

Everyday medieval market

On a regular basis I see what I’m sure most medieval towns in Europe really looked like, complete with the wealthy picking their way carefully through the mess, or more usually ploughing through it in their (4WD) carriages. Religion is evident in all forms, from pious pilgrims to a non-stop evangelical form of renaissance.  At every step there is something that causes wonder and perplexity.

Pilgrims on their way to celebrate Allah's birthday.

Pilgrims on their way to celebrate Mohammed’s birthday.

I have just watched a guy making deliveries to the office. From his truck he fully loads a wheelbarrow, but there is a step which, on every trip, causes something from the load to fall off. Each time he stops, picks up the (often damaged) carton or packages, and lifts and pulls the wheel barrow from the front over the step. On the fourth trip the wheel barrow is full of cans

Not Florence Cathedral. Yet.

Not Florence Cathedral, Church at Chilomoni.

of paint. It hits the step and a can falls off, breaks open and splashes paint around. He first puts the broken pot back on the wheelbarrow before deciding that might not be such a good idea and makes vague attempts to wash the paint splashes off his trousers. Leaving the large splodge of paint on the concrete, he then pushes the wheelbarrow into the office with the wheel making white dashes on the carpet down the corridor. Nobody blinks.

paintMy colleague says that there is no culture of learning within Malawian society. Perhaps he’s right, or perhaps it is a charge that can be levelled at every culture and it is more about what is important to who. Either way, it all certainly adds to the colour of life (and office!).

So who is learning what? Who isn't?

So who is learning what? Who isn’t learning?

The new paradigm

Tea break at the Sugar Project review meeting

Tea break at the Sugar Project review meeting

A characteristic of the Opera House design was that at the time of the award, nobody knew how to build it, not even the architect. In a similar vein, when JFK said that he wanted an American on the moon, nobody knew how to do that either. In both cases though there was sufficient understanding of science and technology for society to be confident enough that such ambitious goals could be achieved.

Project vision developed at the previous workshop

Project vision developed at the previous workshop

Concern Universal’s goal of “A world where justice, dignity and respect prevail for all.” is a different kind of problem, or challenge, to putting a man on the moon, and also requires a

Discussion at the Sugar Project review meeting

Discussion at the Sugar Project review meeting

different kind of thinking to achieve it. Whilst it requires a different kind of thinking, I believe the process of incremental learning developed in the science and technology world, is still applicable.

Break out group at the LDSP  planning meeting

Break out group at the LDSP planning meeting

An aspect of all contemporary Donor Aid programs is that the donors demand regular Monitoring and Evaluation reports of projects and programs, both to ensure accountability but also to facilitate learning and change. I recently attended the Sugar and LDSP (Local Development Support Program) projects quarterly review meetings. I was impressed by the desire to explore the ‘so what?’ question in response to a list of outputs achieved, the real discussions on gender issues, and the use of facilitators in the meetings. The next step is to build on these capabilities, become even more inclusive, get a step closer to the desired goal.