Causal analysis


Use for

Reflection on problems with system innovation


By analysing cause-and-effect relationships when a system innovation project or programme stagnates you can make carefully considered interventions. By focusing the strategy of the project on deeper, but still changeable, aspects of the problem you can solve causes at a higher level.

What do you do?

Tasks can be allocated in various ways for a causal analysis:

  1. As monitor or project manager, you guide the participants (those involved in the transition project)
  2. The work is divided between the participants and the manager or monitor
  3. As monitor or project manager, you make a causal analysis yourself.

The principle behind the analysis is practically the same however the tasks are assigned. The causal analysis starts with a central problem, for example the threatened failure to achieve the ambitions for a system innovation project or programme. If you are supervising the participants, ask them to specify the various reasons for the problem and their deeper causes. You then arrange them in a sort of tree. Each connecting line from top to bottom answers the question "Why?" or "What is the deeper cause of this?" The relationship from the bottom to the top is the opposite: 'If this argument at the bottom applies, this connected argument higher up follows.' The next step is for the participants to discuss the arrangement. This leads to a clear and common definition of the problem. If the tasks are divided (option 2), as project manager or monitor you make your own integrated reconstruction of the list of causes.

The third and final step is to choose strategic interventions as a group. These interventions are intended to address the deeper problems, since they will also solve the higher ranked causes and ‘symptoms of stagnation'.


  • Participants need to have a good feel for language and logic
  • It will take a team of 4-5 participants around an hour to construct the causal tree (option 1). The group reflection on strategic interventions to kick start transition processes takes another hour. With more than five participants the exercise should be performed in separate steps since the volume of data will otherwise be too great for a session of 1-2 hours. In that case, two people make a start and present their results to the group at a later session.

More information

Mierlo, B. van et al. (2010). Reflexive monitoring in action. A guide for monitoring system innovation projects. Boxpress: Oisterwijk.

Used by

Among others: Athena Instituut VU: Jacqueline Broerse: