Problem Tree

Problem Tree Analysis (also called Situational or Problem Analysis) helps develop solutions by mapping the anatomy of cause and effect around an issue in a similar way to a Mind Map, but with more structure.

Objective: Define a problem; identify and prioritize manageable objectives; enhance understanding of interrelated causes and effects; help establish what additional information, evidence or resources are needed to make a strong case, or build a convincing solution; spotlight present issues, rather than apparent, future or past issues; build a consensus of understanding, purpose and action that contributes to finding win-win solutions

Resources: Flip chart paper, recipe cards or post-it notes; markers, tables and chairs

Audience: How Many: Up to 30, in small groups of 4 to 8

Time: 60 to 90 minutes; 20 to 30 minutes to develop problem statement; 30 to 40 minutes to develop 'trees'; 10 to 20 for de-briefing

Divide participants into groups of four to eight, and explain 'tree'. The priority problem - the cause, the challenge or the reason for the planning session is the trunk of the tree. The causes or factors that set in motion this situation are its roots, and the consequences, effects or benefits of the situation are the branches.

Avoid the phrase 'lack of' in the problem statement: this limits the solutions and responses to the problem.
Each group should identify the two or three main causes or factors of the problem. When defining or identifying a cause or problem, participants should follow these guidelines:

  • ask the question 'Why?' to get at the main factors, then write each answer on a large recipe card or post-it note and card and place it below the 'priority problem'. (Write only one cause or factor per card.) Keep working on the tree until it has two or three levels of roots, as for each cause or factor there are other underlying or indirect causes

  • it is important to continue asking 'Why?' until the factors recur. When the same factors keep appearing, participants have finished developing the 'roots' of the tree

Having completed the roots, participants should develop the branches of the tree. Each branch is an effect or consequence belonging to a specific category. To identify the effects, ask the question, 'What consequences does this have for the community and on society?' A problem can have several different consequences, and each direct consequence or effect may have several indirect effects.

Once all group 'trees' are finished, participants should present and explain their tree to each other. In reviewing the work of each group, encourage discussion. Ensure all causes are appropriate answers to the question 'Why?', and all effects answer the question 'What consequences does this have?' It is important that faulty logic be eliminated at this stage. The facilitator should also point out, though different groups share underlying root causes, investment in one group can also serve other purposes. Participants should also eliminate from each tree any 'causes' that are impossible to solve or factors that are impossible to prevent.

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