Tools And Methods

Problem tree

Problem tree

To explore cause and effect.

A tree can be used to explore cause and effect or problem and solution. The various elements of a tree work together as a simple metaphor:

  • The trunk usually symbolises the situation to be studied;
  • The roots represent causes;
  • The branches are the consequences.

How to construct the tool

  1. Using local materials (fallen twigs/tree branches), begin to construct a tree (a tree can also be drawn on large paper if twigs etc. not feasible).
  2. The trunk symbolises the issue or concern being discussed – a card is placed on the trunk with the concern/issue written on it (this helps to keep the discussion focussed on the issue/concern).
  3. The roots represent e.g. (causes, income, inputs). As each cause, income source or input is raised; it is written on card (once agreed) and placed within the roots. Note that the more importance given to a particular point raised can be identified by placing it on the thicker roots, and vice versa.
  4. The branches represent e.g. (effects, expenditure, outputs, and outcomes). Similarly, as each effect/type of expenditure/output is discussed and agreed, it is written on card and placed in the branches (again, the thicker or thinner the branch identifies level of importance placed on the point).
  5. Fruits may be added to represent possible solutions, actions or unexpected gains.
  6. Saplings can be added beside the large tree to represent ongoing aims, plans, perceived opportunities, desired inputs.

Suggestions for use

  • A tree can be used to analyse of household income and expenditure
  • A tree can be used to analyse the causes and effects of conflict
  • A tree can be used to analyse the causes and effects of HIV and AIDS.
  • A family tree can be used to explore family relations and identity, with all current members as branches and the different levels of roots representing the ancestors.


  • Reflect Mother Manual, ActionAid International, 1996, p. 131-135.
  • Communication & Power, ActionAid, 2003, p. 1003


Do you have a comment or question about this Tool or Method? Discuss it with the rest of the community.

Mauricio Matsinhe Mon Nov 16 at 02:11:30 0 like
I have used it in several times the community level to discuss and find the local solutions for local problems. It was very interesting because many members of these communities have solutions. In many cases they discovered, at all, that they have the solution to many of their problem.

Niaz Ahmed Wed Dec 16 at 06:12:18 0 like
I have used this many times in the community and team level to discuss and find the social problem local level with way forward solutions,It was very interesting too because it is a basic and very common understanding at all level

Raksha Sharma Mon May 17 at 09:05:36 0 like
I also have used it many times in partners' level as well as at community level to identify the major problems in community during advocacy training. Actually, I used to identify the major cause of the problem (which is at the last root through which interventions could be made)

Adhiraj B.C. Wed Jun 17 at 03:06:07 0 like
I also used it many times in community level.

LITON BACE Sat Jul 17 at 03:07:26 1 like
I have used this tool many times in the community and have found some problems as well as taking effective initiatives

Puvaneswary Ponniah Sat Jan 18 at 23:01:49 0 like
As a team we used Problem Tree Analysis and Solution Tree Analysis to find out some of the root causes for gender inequality and a reflection on what went well. This is very useful when you develop another programme

Raj Rajak Fri Feb 18 at 01:02:30 1 like
I have used this participatory tools for cause and effects analysis, roots and fruits analysis, income and expenditure analysis. It is still relevant for participatory action research process, context analysis from critical awareness perspective.

Anicetus Atakpu Mon Jan 19 at 23:01:38 0 like
I have used the problem tree so many times in identifying community issues and the possible causes. its a nice tool for community engagement.

Barbara Mwagale Wed Dec 19 at 17:12:22 0 like
I have used this tool several time in finding the cause of poverty in communities especially among the women and youth and have come up with solutions on how they can be empowered economically