Turning systems of care ideas into solid strategies for change requires a tangible approach to system development at multiple levels: policy and administrative levels, program implementation levels, and the level of practice. To accomplish this, stakeholders need to anchor their system of care ideas in clear and specific expectations for the children and families they expect to serve, what they hope to accomplish, and how they believe they can effectively achieve their goals. Making expectations for system change clear in this way is called using a theory of change or theory-based approach to systems of care development. Theories of change represent the beliefs that system planners, implementers, and funders hold about what children and their families need and what strategies will enable the service system to meet those needs. Theories of change should differ from one system to the next because communities differ in their needs and strengths.
Identifying core elements of a system theory and clearly articulating their relationship provides system stakeholders with a picture of:
- What a system of care will look like in their community,
- What local service delivery processes and infrastructure changes will be necessary to develop this system of care,
- Whether stakeholders share a vision of how to accomplish this change, and
- What steps should be taken to build stronger consensus among stakeholders and to engage them more fully in the development process.
A tool used to describe a theory of change is a logic model, and soon after system of care communities receive their funding, they are asked to develop such a model. Similarly, when graduating communities are struggling with sustainability, someone may ask whether the community has a logic model available for sustainability. The logic model development process allows system stakeholders to discuss desired system change, plan how to accomplish that change, and generate shared responsibility for the results. When logic models are revised and revisited at every step in program implementation, they are a significant tool for guiding change and understanding evaluation results. Logic models are also a useful device for continuous quality improvement, ensuring that program goals are being met through the strategies and interventions identified within the community's logic model.
Stages of logic model development are outlined in the Ideas into Action (En Espanol) monograph by Mario Hernandez and Sharon Hodges.