I want to clarify my priorities by breaking down a complex issue.

Causes Diagram


INSPIRED BY : Namahn and Yellow Window Service Design, Design Flanders (2012) Cause Diagram. In: Service design toolkit.

Level of Involvement

Fairly simple, self administered tool, needs relatively less time.

Download Worksheet

English Version

中文版本 (Chinese Version)

User Rating


Share It


What is it & why should I do it?


What is the root cause of a problem? Often there isn’t one simple answer. The bigger the problem, the more likely it is that the roots will be widespread, and mapping out the causes can quickly get out of hand, making the problem seem overwhelming.


The Causes Diagram helps you think of a problem in a thorough manner and provides a structured way to analyse it. Its pushes you to deconstruct all possible causes for the problem rather than the obvious ones. You can use it both to analyse a new problem and as a tool to highlight the gaps in an existing problem.


It also helps to differentiate causes from effects or symptoms, giving you a better idea of the solutions needed to solve a problem permanently, and it helps to build a shared understanding of what it is you’re working on.

How do I use it?


First, identify and write down the core problem you are trying to resolve.


Working your way from this starting point, write down the direct, underlying and contributing symptoms you see as a result of it. These may be people involved with the problem, systems, equipment, materials, external forces, etc. Try drawing out as many contributing factors as possible.


Now fill out the causes that correspond to these symptoms. Once the worksheet has been filled out, go through each symptom and cause with your team and consider if they are correctly placed, and discuss what you can learn from this in terms of clarifying your aims.


Be careful to not mix the causes of a problem with its symptoms as you note these down – a cause is the reason why something happens, while a symptom is usually what we see as the end result of the problem.


Share your experience

Latest User Experience

  1. Steven Asei-Dantoni


    User Rating: 5

    Hello, I used this tool, and indeed I observed that it is quite difficult for people to differentiate between causes and consequences. Facing a huge array of social problems in the RAAN region of Nicaragua; we needed to look for a cause of the causes. We quickly decided to focus on unemployment.

    The municipalities of the RAAN are marked by high unemployment (85% of population is economically active.).
    According to the Human Development Report (UNDP, 2005), the Human Development Index for the RAAN, is 0.466, which represents low human development conditions, indicating that the population lives in extreme poverty.
    Unemployment of the youth is an urgent issue. Not earning the means to a dignified life can lead to various social problems such as violence, drug consumption, pregnant adolescents or even risky sexual behaviors…etc.
    The tool was very useful, it is documented on http://www.sadantoni.com/overview/ .
    Thank you, Have a great day ,
    Steven Asei Dantoni


  2. Rinko


    User Rating: 3

    Recently we used this tool for analyzing problems with university students. Contributing factors are a bit confusing for them, so we did not used it. For causal analysis, we used “5 whys” method to distill different levels of causes (immediate, underlying and structural causes). We explained “symptoms” as “consequences” – which was easier for them to understand. For example, “as a result of the problem X”, we will have X , Y, Z. this was used to guide them with analysis of direct and indirect symptoms. Later on, this was contributed to prioritizing the problems that are most pressing for them or their peers.


  3. Jess Baron

    Guitars in the Classroom

    User Rating: 3

    This is an excellent straightforward tool. The video is helpful, short, I got it right away. The different formats of the worksheet are great, too, for different parts of the discussion process. Our overarching problem has been parent engagement in musical activities taking children off campus to share their music at public events. The direct symptoms are non-attendance at school music functions or even principal meetings, lack of understanding of outreach andopportunities. The underlying causes are the language barrier with the principal, lack of availability of time during the day, a need to bring and feed siblings in order for parents to participate and a need to provide free transportation since most do not have cars. We can raise funds to manage all these needs to increase parent engagement and thus student participation. There is a deeper underlying problem of depression and substance abuse that would take an outside social service agency partnering with the school to address.


  4. Emmanuel Mubangizi

    WIN Africa Research centre

    User Rating: 5

    Discover the problem and the root cause not relying on symptoms u can be misled


  5. Steve Boedecker

    User Rating: 3

    I really admire and love your endeavor to provide a sort of humanistic and holistic approach to problem solving, and process development. Problem is I atleast cannot use your downloads because they are on A4. I can only print for now regular.


  6. Graciela Fandino

    Sumando Manos Foundation

    User Rating: 5

    This tool help us identify the problem we were having at the foundation. The analysis provided an invaluable stepping point to organize and stablish secretaries in our organization.