Problem Tree Analysis

Problem Tree Analysis helps to determine real – as opposed to apparent – development needs and is best used during the planning stage in consultation with your stakeholders.

When and how should it be used?

Problem Tree Analysis can be undertaken at any stage of the M and E cycle. However, it is most useful at the planning stage. It is typically undertaken in a consultative setting, where a variety of stakeholders are brought together to analyse the existing situation.

The first task is to identify major problems, then the main causal relationships between them are visualised using a problem tree. During the Problem Analysis stage, it is important that as many possible options are examined as possible. There are six steps to Problem Tree Analysis.

Step One – Formulate problems

Stakeholders brainstorm suggestions to identify a problem, that is, to describe what they consider to be the key problem.Each identified problem is written down on a separate card or Post-It. Post-Its are a particularly useful device, otherwise use small cards, such as 5 x 3 record cards, and display them where all participants can see them.Try only to identify existing problems, not possible, imagined or future ones. What is a problem ? A problem is not the absence of a solution but an existing negative state: Crops are infested with pests is a problem; No pesticides are available is not.

Step 2: Select One Problem

The participants should discuss each proposal and try and agree on one problem.What is a problem ? One that involves the interests and problems of the stakeholders present.

If agreement cannot be reached, then:

arrange the proposed problems in a problem tree according to the causal relationships between them;
try again to agree on the problem on the basis of the overview achieved in this way
If no consensus can be achieved try further brainstorming select the best decision, e.g. by awarding points; or decide temporarily on one, continue your work but return at a later stage to discuss the other options.
Whenever possible, avoid a formal vote by the participants to obtain a majority decision.
Step 3: Develop the problem tree
Identify immediate and direct causes of the problem. Identify immediate and direct effects of the focal problem. Construct a problem tree showing the cause and effect relationships between the problems.Review the problem tree, verify its validity and completeness and make any necessary adjustments.

In developing the problem tree, the cards or Post-Its can be moved so that:

the immediate and direct causes of the problem are placed in parallel beneath it;
the immediate and direct effects of the problem are placed in parallel above it.
Causes and effects are further developed along the same principle to form the problem tree.
The problem analysis can be concluded when the stakeholder groups are agreed that all essential information has been included that explains the main cause and effect relationships characterizing the problem.

Step 4: Developing the Objectives tree

Reformulate all the elements in the problem tree into positive and desirable conditions. Review the resulting means-ends relationships to assure the validity and completeness of the objective tree. If required; revise statements; delete objectives that appear unrealistic or unnecessary and add new objectives where required. Draw connecting lines to indicate the means – ends relationships.

In the objective analysis, the problem tree is transformed into a tree of objectives (future solutions of the problems and analysed.Working from the top, all problems are reworded, making them into objectives (positive statements).
Problems: if cause is A then the effect is B
Objectives: The means is X in order to achieve Y.
Draw lines to indicate the means-ends relationship in the objectives tree.

Step 5: Alternate Analysis
Eliminate objectives that are obviously not desirable or achievable. Eliminate objectives being pursued by other development activities in this area. Discuss the implications for affected groups. The purpose of the alternative analysis is to identify possible alternate options, to assess their feasibility and agree upon one strategy for action. Possible alternative means-ends branches in the objective tree that could become activitites are identified and circled. These means-end branches constitute alternative options.
Alternative options should be discussed in light of the interest groups that would be affected by them and the ways in which they would be affected.

Step 6: Selecting the Activity Strategy

Make an assessment of the feasibility of the different alternatives.
Select one of the alternatives as the activity strategy
If agreement cannot be reached then introduce additional criteria
Or alter the most promising option by including or subtracting elements from the objectives tree.
In selecting the best value alternative a series of criteria should be developed and used. For example:

Benefits to particular groups
The probability of achieving objectives
The social, environmental, cultural costs and benefits
Source: Department for International Development

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