Socio-technical problem analysis


Use for

Producing a common analysis of a problem and identifying obstacles to solving the problem.


A problem is (at least partly) a social construction. Different parties see different aspects of the problem and/or have different perceptions of the problem. An agreed-on approach starts with a common analysis of the problem.

What do you do?

With the members of the project team you analyse a central problem (the trunk of the problem tree), and together discover its causes (the roots of the tree) and its consequences (the branches and leaves of the tree).

In the version developed by the Dutch Wageningen University (Leeuwis 2004), attention is devoted to both the technical and social dimensions of complex problems. There are three steps in this approach.

In the first step, you identify a central problem that all of the participants accept as a starting point for discussion. In the second step, you explore which specific technical and social practices of various stakeholdercontribute to the problem.

In the third step, you identify the reasons the various stakeholders have for not adopting alternative practices.

The socio-technical problem analysis is a good method to use with interdisciplinary teams. The analysis helps in integrating knowledge from various disciplines and can also generate a coherent set of new, interdisciplinary research questions.

Related methodThe method is related to causal analysis.


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More information

  • Veldhuisen, L. van , A. Waters-Bayer en H. de Zeeuw (1997). Developing technology with Farmers. A Trainer's guide for participatory Learning. Zed Books: London.
  • Leeuwis, C. met bijdragen van A. van den Ban (2004). Communication for Rural Innovation. Rethinking Agricultural Extension. Third  Edition, Blackwell Publishing.
  • Leeuwis, C. (2004). Changing views of innovation and the role of science. The 'socio-technical root system' as a tool for identifying relevant cross-disciplinary research questions. In: Proceedings of the Sixth IFSA European Symposium, Vila Real, Portugal, 3-8 April, pp. 773-782. UTAD, Vila Real.

Used by

Among others: Cees Leeuwis, Wageningen UR