In our book on M&E training, we present a variety of active learning techniques to engage people in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) training. The “Logical Bridge” activity is one of the earliest that I used, and a good example of how M&E learning can be made fun not only for training, but also as an icebreaker or team-building activity for other events.
Logic models are a widely adopted (and adapted) tool for project/program’s design. They summarize the hierarchy of intended results, measurement of these result (indicators and means of verification), and other key assumptions (risks) to monitor. However, logic models can straightjacket a project, imposing an outside, technocentric method that sometimes may alienate rather than fosters local participation in project design, monitoring, and evaluation (M&E).
This was one of my early challenges (and passions) as an M&E professional: how to demystify M&E to empower people to understand, use, and even critique it. Whether program teams, CEOs, or community members, the more people understand and appreciate M&E, the more they will own and support it.
A big obstacle to M&E training is that it is not the most exciting (“sexy”) subject people gravitate towards. Resistance is heightened for the very reason people need it – they do not understand and value M&E. Instead, they often feel threatened by it, finding it technically intimidating, or associating M&E as overly bureaucratic or controlling.
Making M&E learning fun is based on the adult learning principle that a dynamic, pleasing learning experience teaches more than a routine or boring one. As Mary Poppins put it, “In any job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and, snap, the job’s a game!” The Logical Bridge activity illustrates how this can be done for M&E learning about logic models.
Everyone can relate to a bridge, and I’ve found this activity a fun, useful springboard to discuss concepts about the logical hierarchy of results for whatever design framework (and semantics) used. Remember to take pictures of final bridges, a fun atmosphere can be enhanced by awarding prizes (e.g. chocolate) for the bridges developed (e.g. most stable, creative, and the first bridge completed). This activity is not only a fun way to teach, but has the added benefit of teambuilding.
“Logical Bridge” Activity Lesson Plan
Overview Summary – The Logical Bridge activity engages participants to construct a bridge using straws, tape, scissors and string that is higher than and can support a glass. The bridge is then used as a simple metaphor to discuss the key elements of a program/project design, from inputs and activities to outputs, outcomes and goals. This activity and lesson is typically the first of a series of activities/lessons introducing key concepts of and practice with logic models.
- Learning Objective. By the end of this activity, trainees will be able to explain the primary levels in the objective hierarchy for a program logic model used by <insert organization name>. (Note that terms such as “objectives” or “logic model” should be tailored to context; for example, “results” and “program theory” may be more appropriate, depending on the organizational culture.)
- Audience. It is appropriate for learners new to logical frameworks, or to reinforce understanding for more experienced learners.
- Time. About 30 to 60 minutes for preparation, and 45 to 90 minutes for facilitation.
- Facilitation Guidance. The following is illustrative and learning activities and lessons should be adapted to the training audience and needs.
- Activity preparation (~30 – 60 minutes). Prepare activity visuals (slides) and obtain required materials. If not already done, arrange trainees into balanced learning teams of 4 to 8 people. Place on each small group table a package of 50 straws, role of masking tape, about one meter (yard) of string, and scissors.
- Activity introduction (~5 minutes). Brief trainees that they will be doing an activity that will help them understand the results hierarchy in a logframe, but keep it short as it is important for them to have the experience first before debriefing and learning from it. To further engage their interest, you can tell people that the activity is a game/contest, points will be scored and prizes will be awarded. Display (i.e. a projected slide) the exercise instructions. Read them out load and clarify any questions or concerns people may have. Explain that groups do not need to use all of each material to build their bridge. Leave the slide displayed during the activity for people to refer to.
- Activity practice (20 – 45 minutes). Float around and check in with groups as they construct their bridges. Provide a time count-down, announcing when 10 minutes are left, 5 minutes, and then a final 2 minute warning.
- Activity debrief/awards. After time is up, debrief in plenary each team’s bridge, one at a time. Ask each team what they experienced? What worked well and didn’t? How was their teamwork? Awards can be provided according to different criteria for each bridge; e.g. first to complete their bridge, sturdiest bridge, most innovative bridge, strangest bridge, funniest bridge, etc. In this manner, each team can ‘win’ and receive a prize. Edible prizes work well, such as candy, fruit, or beverage. It is also fun to take team pictures with each bridge (which can be later used in any training report).
- Activity lesson. The follow-up lesson for this activity is actually a further debrief, allowing learners to reflect on and apply the activity to the learning objective. Questions and answers can be used to help learners relate to each level of intended results in a typical logic model (e.g. logframe) using the bridge example.
Learning points can progress from each level of results, drawing upon comparison with an example project building an actual bridge: 1) Inputs, i.e. building materials, finances, workers, etc.; 2) Activities, i.e. obtaining permits, drafting an architect’s plan, construction, etc.; 3) Outputs, i.e. the bridge; 4) Outcomes, i.e. increase trade and between two towns; and 3) Goal , i.e. improved livelihoods through increased trade.
If the particular logic model (logframe) format being used has more levels of results, or uses different terminology, this can be substituted accordingly.
As the lesson progresses from each level of result, it is helpful to ask people, “In real life, what might be the <substitute “input,” “activity,” “output,” “outcome”, or “goal”> for building a bridge?” It is also useful when discussing each result level (objective) to use an accompanying visual (slide) providing an abbreviated definition of the result, i.e. “ Activities: tasks needed to be done to achieve the outputs.” Visual reinforcement is important, and it useful to provide handouts of the key results levels, defined and with examples.
Point out that other organizations or donors use different terminology for the result (objective) hierarchy, but do not get drawn into a long discussion on which terminology is ‘better.’ Simply explain that as long as the core logic, terms can be adapted.
You may choose to introduce the concept of unintended outcomes (or unanticipated consequences) at this stage, or it may be planned for a later lesson during the training.
- Additional facilitation tips. If presentations using projected slides (e.g. PowerPoint) is not possible, flipcharts, white-boards, or prepared hand-outs can be used. If other team games will be conducted during training, points can be recorded on a plenary score sheet and prizes later awarded. If team scoring becomes a distraction when debriefing the bridges, this aspect of the activity can be dropped.
- Learning Assessment. During the activity and debrief, observation of and listening to trainee participation is useful for monitoring learning. Learning assessment of logic framework key elements can include written quiz and/or completion of case study logframe following addition lessons on key elements of the IFRC logframe.
- Lesson Assignments. Pre-lesson assignments are not necessary for this activity, although pre-reading can be assigned.
- Lesson Materials – Visual aids (e.g. computer, PowerPoint slides, projector, and screen or wall space for projected images). Per each team, provide: 50 straws, roll of masking tape, about one meter (yard) of string, and scissors.
- Lesson reference materials. The following are recommended resources are a few of the many examples for trainers and/or trainees, all freely available online: the IFRC Project/Program Planning Guidelines (2010), the Kellogg Foundation’s Logic Model Development Guide, (2004), and BetterEvaluation’s webpage, on “Develop Programme Theory” (2015).
- Additional notes. This activity lends itself well as an icebreaker or energizer, before relevant concepts are presented. As such, it can be facilitated to kick off a workshop, allowing people to interact, while supporting positive atmosphere, and introducing learning content.