Analysis Tool 2.1: Problem Tree

Using a problem tree (also called problem analysis) allows project teams to identify the major causes or drivers (i.e. root causes) of specific issues, in this case the root causes of child deprivations due to HH-level poverty (most likely combined/in addition to other causes). The problem tree exercise involves creating a cause and effect map that illuminates how structural and systemic problems related to poverty create negative consequences for children, such as malnutrition, low access to health care facilities, low school completion among girls, domestic violence, and harmful child work (reference). Developing a problem tree involves the following four primary steps:  

Problem Tree Step 1 – Generate a list of problems

The first step to creating a child-sensitive problem tree is to identify and draw up a list of the main problems that directly or indirectly affect children in a given context. Project teams can do this by using the list of problems they identified in the previous step, which are children’s deprivations and unmet needs. If a project team has not undertaken the previous step, it may identify problems affecting children by using the following tips: 

  • Develop a complete list of problems that depicts a thorough picture of the existing reality for children. 
  • Clarify if the problems directly or indirectly relates to children (e.g. the problem can relate to caregivers or the HH as a whole).  
  • Consider each problem against this list of questions to ensure a child-sensitive lens: 
    • How does this problem affect different groups of children (e.g. disabled, ethnically 18 marginalized, extremely vulnerable)? 
    • How does this problem affect boys and girls differently? For example, are girls more likely to be kept from going to school due to domestic duties? 
    • How does this problem affect younger or older children differently? 
    • Who is most directly affected by the identified problems? 
    • How do children view these problems? 
    • Why is this a problem for children?  

Problem Tree Step 2 – Identify the causes, effects and impact(s)

The second step to creating a child-sensitive problem tree is to identify the causes, effects and impacts of the problems. In general, this involves identifying factors that could be causing the problem, using available qualitative and quantitative data. 

Project teams should distinguish between immediate, underlying and structural problems and use a causal analysis to understand the links between the various levels of problems. Immediate causes are events or situations that directly lead to an outcome (e.g. limited access to food is an immediate cause of food insecurity). Underlying causes generally relate to policies, practices, ideas or beliefs of target communities and/or duty bearers (state and non-state) and relations between them. Structural causes generally relate to systemic economic, political, societal or other constructs. 

When identifying causes project teams should also consider the role of gender (e.g. whether food insecurity at the HH level is due to unemployment by male members of the HH, due to obstacles for women in generating an income to purchase food). 

For example, in the Kenya case study the causes are: 

Immediate: Limited access to food, poor hygiene, sanitation and feeding practices. 

Underlying: Drought, low-income opportunities for women, increases in illnesses, low literacy, and low school retention.  

Structural: Inter-communal conflict, cultural beliefs regarding women and children, few financial institutions, limited access to health care, climate change, poor governance, lack of political will, tribal conflicts, unsupported markets and limited access to education. Note that the number of causes and effects will vary from one context to another. 

To identify effects project teams need to consider both consequences of the main problem of the target community and the HH as well as consequences that are specific to children. For example, in the Kenya case study the effects are: 

Immediate effects on community and HH: high debt, loss of assets, community and HH tensions, unsafe pregnancies, risky practices, violence against women. 

Effects on children: child malnutrition, early girl child marriage, child labour, lack of growth opportunities. 

Finally, to identify the impact(s) project teams can use the underlying causes to identify the overarching impact on children and their communities. For example, in the Kenya case study the overarching impact of food insecurity is morbidity and mortality among children (and adults).  

Problem Tree Step 3 – Identify and prioritize the main problems that are driven (at least partially) by poverty

The third step to creating a child-sensitive problem tree is to prioritize the problems listed in step 1 in order to hone in on the main problem children face and identify what can/cannot be addressed by PA interventions and by which type of PA or integrated/cross-thematic interventions. For example, in the Kenya case study the main problem is food insecurity. 

Project teams can use Tool 2.2 Problem Prioritization to support step 3. A blank version of Tool 2.2 can be found in the Worksheet Key Tools section (Tool 2.2) and the Kenya case study version is also available later in this toolkit. 

It is necessary to identify the main root cause/s of the problem to establish to what extent poverty is a root cause of the problem. It is also necessary to establish what the other root causes are and how to select the best project to address them. Project teams can use the following questions to help establish which PA programme to use. 

  • Can a PA project tackle this problem alone or would it need to be an integrated/cross thematic project? 
  • What are the related costs, timeframe, capacity, resources, likelihood of success of a PA project targeting this problem? 
  • Would a targeted intervention have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of children at the HH level? 
  • Is it realistic and feasible to create a PA project targeting this issue that will maximize benefits for children? (Note: Building Block C: MEAL addresses measuring impacts).

Step 4 – Complete the problem tree

The final step to creating a problem tree is to fill in the worksheet with the main problem, causes (immediate, underlying and structural), effects (on HH, community and children) and the impact(s).

The problem tree below addresses the central problem for the Kenya case study – low food security – the underlying and immediate causes, the effects and the final impacts of the problem. Note that it is possible to have multiple impacts; this case study only shows one. 

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