Decide on a Problem

With your team, choose a problem that you’ve wanted to address in your school, district, or community. To make true impact, it is important to get to the root cause of a problem, rather than simply addressing a surface level problem. Think of it as a doctor does - there are symptoms, and there are underlying causes. You want to make sure you are focused on the deeper issue to solve.

We’ve provided some exercises and tips to help you.

Time Needed

1 hour

Problem Tree Analysis

Problem Tree Analysis enables you to uncover the root of a problem by mapping out the causes and effects. This enables a problem to be broken down into manageable and definable pieces, and provides a clearer understanding of the context .

Use the following steps to guide you.

  1. Write your challenge in the center of a flip chart or whiteboard. This becomes the ‘trunk’ of the tree and the focal problem. The wording does not need to be exact; the roots (causes) and branches (effects) will define further it.
  2. As a group, discuss the causes of this problem and write them underneath the problem. These become the “roots” of the tree.
  3. Then discuss the effects or consequences of this problem and write them above the problem. These become the “branches” of the tree.
  4. For each cause, ask what causes it. For each effect, ask what the consequences are. Continue this process until no further causes and effects are mentioned. You may not have all the answers at this point, so make notes of any assumptions, questions, conflicts, or gaps in knowledge.

Example of Problem Tree Analysis

Probelm Tree (illustration)

Five Whys Worksheet

This is a simple but effective way at getting to deeper insights, underlying issues, and the root of a problem. By asking “Why?” around a given statement - as many times as it makes sense, it enables you to dig below the surface-level assumptions or symptoms of a problem in order to find its root cause. We’ve provided an example below.


Five Whys (illustration)

Keep an eye on time

It’s easy to get lost down a rabbit hole, so you may want to set a goal for how much time you want to spend on this activity.

You won't uncover everything

These activities can be overwhelming, so just do your best. Know that you will not be able to uncover all underlying causes - that’s what the Explore phase will help you do - but making the effort helps to reframe the problem.

Consider some key questions

Is this a symptom of a larger problem? Why is this problem occurring? Are there other factors in play?

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