Problem tree analysis

Step 3 - Problem Tree AnalysisDuring the workshop (or sometimes it may be necessary to organise a series of workshops), you get a representative sample of the stakeholders that you identified with the group. The problem tree analysis is an exercise that allows you to identify the different problems that people face, and the relationships between those problems. The idea is to identify the core problem, and see what things are at the root cause of this central problem, and what other problems are a consequence of the core problem.


The first step is to identify the different problems

  • Ask people to note different problems on cards: one card per problem.
  • The problems have to be real – if there’s doubt ask them to clarify by an example.
  • Sometimes people will bring up things that they think are important for you – because you are rich and otherwise you’re not going to give the money, right?
  • Real problems also means that they are occurring now, not that they could occur if…
  • A problem is not the absence of a solution – it’s still too early to think of solutions. For instance, if someone thinks that he would get better crop yields if only he’d have fertilizers, the problem is not ‘The absence of fertilizers’, but ‘Poor (quality of the) soil’.

Identify the core problem and establish a problem tree

Basically there are two ways to go about this. The group can agree on the core problem, and develop the problem tree around it. This means you look at what issues are causing the problem and which ones are a consequence of the core problem and you try to establish cause-and-effect relations between them. Often, the core problem is quite clear and just pops up. Also, your very presence and the fact that you can do specific things will influence the choice. If you are specialised in water and irrigation, the core problem will tend to be more ‘watery’ than when you are specialised in commercialisation of food items.

The other way is to establish the cause and effect relationships between the problems first, and then select the core problem. This may give you more work to do, because it will be less clear from the onset what issues are less important or relevant than others.

Problem trees can be quite large, so here  the floor is used to give every card a place


The problem tree itself has roots and branches

The roots can be found below the core problem, these are the causes that lead to the issue that you've identified. Directly below the core problem you'll find the cards with the most direct causes. Below these issues are their respective causes and so on.

The branches or the consequences are above the core problem. The most direct consequences can be found right above the core problem, then the issues that are a consequence of these direct consequences and so on.

When your tree is finished, you may find that there are still some gaps – meaning there are problems (cards) that you’ve not identified yet. Or maybe you don’t understand the relation between a separate root/branch and the rest of the tree, and you may have to reflect on what is missing – or maybe there is a no relation at all.


You can use an online free Problem Tree Analysis generator to help you with this task:

use to teach

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