Logic Modelling – Clarifying our Assumptions

This post is one of a series linked to The Logic Model – getting a social return on investement?

The Logic Model is based on an acceptance of cause and effect i.e. IF I do this, THEN this happens.

Underpinning these causal relationships are a set of assumptions which we have built up through life experiences and learning.  For example, IF I drink a glass of water, THEN I will feel less thirsty.  However, when we begin to tease out some of the assumptions upon which educational initiatives have been based in the past we can begin to see some major flaws in Cause and Effect and perhaps begin to understand why they have not been as successful a they might have been.

An example might be as follows:

  •  IF we develop a Learning and Teaching Policy,
  • THEN it  will lead to better teaching,
  • and IF teaching is improved,
  • THEN better learning will take place,
  • and IF better learning takes place
  • THEN there will be an improvement in educational outcomes,
  • and IF we can improve educational outcomes
  • THEN we can improve the children’s life chances.

From the above example we can begin to see how the Model is undermined by a set of quite unrealistic assumptions.

As I reflect back on my career I can see countless projects – many of which I have perpetrated – that have been based upon flawed assumptions on the likely cause and effect relationships between activity and outcome.

Yet such is the pressure and expectation for activity – both from the individual and the system – that we rarely spend enough time exploring our assumptions before we leap into action.

A few years ago I studied Chris Argyris and Donald Schon’s notions of Theory in use and Espoused Theory :

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use. (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7)

In layman’s terms we might know this better as “the difference between what we say and what we do”.

Argyris and Schon suggest that our tacit assumptions (theory-in-use) that we have about how the things happen have much more powerful influence on our behaviour than what we might say in order to comply with policy,  political correctness or our managers.

Perhaps even more importantly they suggest that organisations can have a similar divergence between what they say and what they do, i.e. their “theory-in-use” which is tacit and unspoken, can have a much more powerful influence on behaviour than any policy or  management rhetoric. For example, there are numerous examplesof organisations who have espoused corporate values through such things as mission statements, but whose organisational behaviour runs completely counter to such values.

A key stage in Logic Modelling, therefore, is to attempt to stand back and look at the unspoken assumptions upon which we currently base our practice and reflect whether or not we need to reconsider these with a view to creating a set of causal (IF/THEN) relationships which have a much greater chance of success.

I began to explore assumptions relating to A Curriculum for Excellence back in October and but now realise that this is even more important than I had first imagined.

The  “theory-in-use” which has dominated curriculum innovation up to this point probably goes something like this:

Teachers cannot be trusted with something as important as curriculum innovation.

There should be a uniformity of opportunity and pupil experience in all schools.

Development of the curriculum is essentially a “top down process”.

The key to improvement is to ensure a proper flow of information down to teachers.

Teachers need to “told” what to do.

The role of Local Authorities is to promote that flow of information and to ensure proper implementation by schools.

The key unit of curriculum creation are national bodies and local authorities.

School leaders have a responsibility to ensure that teachers implement the programme as planned.

Professional Development is based upon a deficit model whereby teachers’ perceived  lack of knowledge is addressed by providing them with materials and “instructions” for implementation.

There is a need to “teacher proof”  the system by ensuring that teachers cannot interfere with the contents or the delivery model.

But what about this as an alternative set of assumptions?

Teachers are professionals who want to make a positive difference to children’s lives;

Where teachers are empowered to work together they can create outstanding learning environments for children and young people;

Teachers naturally want to talk and learn from each other about their practice;

Teachers want to engage in dialogue about their own educational practice with a view to improving their craft.

The school is the key unit of curricular creation and professional development.

Schools should be encouraged to create curricular models which suit their own context

School leaders can create environments where teachers want to learn.

Teams of teachers working collectively towards a common purpose can have a more positive impact upon practice than any other strategy.

Teachers are partners in the curriculum development process.

I will be exploring how such an alternative set of assumptions might be represented in a Logic Model in the last post in this series.


1 thought on “Logic Modelling – Clarifying our Assumptions

  1. Don writes:

    “such is the pressure and expectation for activity – both from the individual and the system – that we rarely spend enough time exploring our assumptions before we leap into action”

    I couldn’t agree more. Neither do we revisit our assumptions when it is apparent that a policy is / is not working. This is a critical step, but one that is often missing.

    It is often assumed that all parties implicitly understand the basis for a particular course of action when it is decided upon. However, these assumptions are rarely made explicit and often get lost in the fog later down the line. In many cases this means that we persevere with ideas, or sometimes give up on ideas, on the basis of flawed assumptions.

    While having nothing whatsoever to do with education I’ll make no apologies for using the Afghan poppy harvest as a case in point. Since the invasion of Afghanistan the UN and NATO have suffered abject failure in stemming the tide of poppy cultivation for heroin production. Their policy was to extend security and encourage Afghan farmers to grow wheat. However, despite no change in policy the poppy harvest has now started to decrease. Why? The price of wheat has quadrupled, something that seemed not to figure in the assumptions of the international community.

    (See The Guardian, May 13th 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/13/afghanistan)

    Have the UN and NATO now changed their assumptions? We will only know when the price of wheat falls again.

    I’ll not speculate on whether they would have avoided years of folly by using a logic model!

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