"The problem tree is a visual problem-analysis tool that can be used by both field development staff and the community to specify and investigate the causes and effects of a problem and to highlight the relationships between them..."

It is "...a tool for the identification and analysis of the relevant causes of the main problems, which will later form the bases for formulating solutions and objectives for the communication strategy. A discussion of the causes can help to identify the segments of the community who are most affected and who should be specifically interested in participating in activities aimed at removing the causes of the problem. Remember that each cause of the problem is also a problem in its own right..."

"As the name implies, this tool resembles a tree. The roots of the tree, in the lower part of the drawing, metaphorically represent the causes of the main problem. The tree trunk at the centre of the drawing represents the main problem and the tree branches, on the upper side of the drawing, provide a visual representation of the effects of the main problem."

"The problem tree can be used in on-going projects as well as in the formulation of new development efforts with a community. In on-going projects, the problem tree is done at least twice. First it is done before going into the field, in order to assess clearly the project perception about the main problem and its causes. Then the problem tree is done with the community to assess if they have the same perceptions of the problem. Quite often the difference in the two perceptions constitutes one of the main obstacles towards the successful achievement of the projects' objectives.

The whole purpose of the problem tree is to define the main problems present in the community in order to analyse and prioritise their causes as the first step towards effective sustainable solutions. Probably the most important tool to keep in mind throughout this process is a single question or rather a single word: 'WHY?' It is amazing how this short word can generate unexpected insights, which greatly help in developing an effective communication strategy. Never be afraid of asking or wondering why something is happening, even if it seems obvious."

Click here to download a zipped PDF file (see pps. 122-123) from the FAO website for more information.

SADC Centre of Communication for Development and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2004. "Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal, Starting with the People: A Handbook" Chapter II: Situation Analysis Framework in PRCA [zipped PDF], pps 23-24 and Chapter VII: PRCA toolbox, pps 122-123 - click here to download.