Sunday, May 23, 2010

Problem Trees

Yesterday was an interesting day. After all my scheduled meetings were canceled/changed, the nutrition coordinator facilitated a workshop for all the staff called “Conceptual Framework for Malnutrition”. Interestingly, halfway through the exercise, I realized this CFM was really just a Problem Tree, and I think that if it had been called that, it would have been more clear the reason behind the exercise, and the links between the “immediate”, “indirect” (underlying), and “basic” causes for, in this case, malnutrition (*It is essentially cause-effect logic model).

The reason this was all so interesting was that this exact exercise was a part of my curriculum in Colorado (who would have thought!), which allowed me to not only see the process in action, but also to understand better the steps, difficulties, and moments of clarity for the participants.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Problem- (and resulting) Solution-Tree idea, it is essential an exercise to identify the root, or fundamental, causes of a particular problem (in our example, malnutrition), and ultimately to address those causes through capacity building (identifying the “weakest link”), and, when not within a group/organization’s capacity, bringing in another group/organization to address those issues (such as an organization that focuses on maternal health).

From the Problem Tree, you can easily create a Solution Tree by simply writing the inverse of all the “problems” (that is, “Low crop yields” would become “Increased crop yields”). For an overview (if you are interested), NZAID has a brief introduction and example here including a small problem tree.

It is important to remember, however, that this idea of cause-and-effect is often linear, and unfortunately most problems are not linear but cyclical. This causes this, which causes this, which brings us back to the beginning. And this issue comes up quite a bit during this exercise (as it did yesterday), and it is easy to get bogged down with what goes where. It is important to remember that, as it was called yesterday, this is conceptual, and the causal analysis that comes later serves almost exclusively as a means to organize thoughts and identify target areas, target issues. 

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