The problem tree helps us create a clearer definition of the societal problem towards whose solution we intend to contribute with our project.


Time needed

2-4 hours

Difficulty level



Post-It notes, thick pencils, potentially a flipchart, worksheet, Problem tree PDF


Team members, potentially target group representatives




What is actually the problem? Answering this question is often not that easy. Many projects start out with a great idea, but have no clear concept as to what their long-term effects on society can or should be. Only projects that satisfy real needs and therefore solve existing problems will have an impact in the long term.

Working with the problem tree also visualizes many different causes and consequences of the problem. This makes it much easier to define your own contribution towards solving a large societal problem.



Have your team members sit together and ideally also get a few representatives of the target group(s) and other people familiar with this topic to join you. Draw a stylized tree with a trunk, a crown and roots on flipchart paper or project it on the wall.


Now consider what societal problem you wish to solve. Here, it is important not to formulate the mere absence of your solution as the problem. Ask yourselves what problems your target groups deal with, why they come to you, what desire for change motivated you to start your project. Write down your results on Post-It notes. In this way you can accumulate various ideas. Work together to sort them into the appropriate categories on the problem tree. Is it really the core problem or rather a consequence or even a cause of the problem? Recognizing this takes some practice. Do not be too perfectionist about it. Based on experience, it takes some time until a version of the problem tree that is acceptable to all team members becomes apparent.


In the next step, you add the consequences and then the causes of the problem. At this point, you may be able to adapt and sharpen your concept of the core problem.


The most effective/sustainable approach is to address one or several causes of the problem with your impact objectives and activities. This is because, when you eliminate the causes of the problem, the problem itself will disappear, along with its consequences. Of course, sometimes it may also be necessary to mitigate the consequences of a problem in the short term! One thing to keep in mind is: as long as the problem persists, its consequences will also persist.


Problem tree worksheet PDF