“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.”
Logical framework approaches (LFAs) – aka, logframes – are often an annoyance. A typical requirement of donors, they often serve as a tick-the-box exercise for managers in charge of development projects.
Of course, demonstrating performance is a significant part of any project. Development actors using tax money or direct donations should always have a high level of accountability and transparency. Potentially even more importantly, development actors are accountable to their stakeholders and beneficiaries.
What’s the matter with logframes?
In the conclusion of their paper, ‘The Use and Abuse of the Logical Framework Approach’, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) summarised the state of LFAs in the sector:
“Development organisations are torn between increasing levels of stakeholder participation and accountability and ever greater requirements to demonstrate that they have performed according to expectations and to provide evidence of impact. The LFA, while deeply flawed, seems to provide some middle ground, as it is both a component of results-based management and also allows scope for intensive stakeholder participation, at least at the planning stage.” 
Indeed, stakeholders have rights. Organisations are accountable to them. Organisations should not ‘hope to do good’. They should know their project goals are going to be of benefit to stakeholders.
This is part of the most important principle of ‘do no harm’. How will organisations know if they are doing harm if they do not know the situation before, during, and after their interventions? In some cases, harm is obvious – such as an increase in violence. However, in other cases, harm is more hidden – like in cases where a project hampers or halts a necessary change altogether.
While logframes are very useful in terms of measuring and demonstrating impact, they cannot always capture or communicate nuance. Like democracy, LFAs are the worst tools for results-based management. Except for all the others.
The numbers trap
Unfortunately, the sector often views projects with results that do not easily fit into a numerical scheme as ‘less good’ or ‘less valuable’. Due to their nature, LFAs tend to emphasise these misconceptions.
Hans Rosling summarises the issue well:
‘The world cannot be understood without numbers. And it cannot be understood through numbers alone.’
Practitioners need to consider the limits of numerical data when developing programme logic and, with it, a logframe.
Wherever possible and realistic, practitioners should use numbers for accountability purposes. For example, counting the number of underweight children who are now at a healthy weight clearly illustrates the impact of a project.
However, there are cases where numbers are not enough to explain the situation. In such cases, practitioners must make educated decisions accordingly.
A great example is the development of a new government policy. Of course, staff can simply count the policy when it is finalised. The target is ‘1’, and one can easily measure whether or not this target has been achieved.
But what does that number really say? Does it say if it is a good policy? No. Does it highlight whether or not there was an inclusive process where less privileged groups had a chance to voice their opinion? No. Does it say if the policy is adequate in terms of everything it was supposed to achieve? No.
As such, LFAs can and should have qualitative, descriptive indicators where they make sense. A number alone cannot always provide a full or accurate picture.
In the early 2000s, stakeholder participation was only possible during the development of a new intervention project and its associated logframe.
Now technology enables participation on many levels, which improves accountability. Real-time data collection has created opportunities for stakeholders to participate in subsequent stages of the project cycle (subject to internet access). Additionally, if project staff make the effort, they can also create opportunities for stakeholder engagement that do not require internet access.
Communities can participate in accountability checks by means of citizen monitors, who can hold organisations accountable and observe their endeavours (again, through real-time visual dashboards, if possible).
Are logframes worth using?
Despite it’s many flaws, results-based management is crucial in ensuring accountability both to donors and stakeholders. LFAs, when used well, are an effective tool in gauging the success of a project. However, practitioners must not fall into the numbers trap.
All in all, logframes are the worst, except for all the other options.
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 Supposedly Churchill