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close this bookNonformal Education Manual (Peace Corps, 1989)
close this folderChapter 4: Helping people identify their needs
close this folderInformal discussion and interviewing
close this folderGroup discussions
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentProblem tree
View the documentThe balloon exercise
View the documentBrainstorming/prioritizing
View the documentHints for facilitating a group discussion

Problem tree

Suppose you are working with a group of mothers who are agreed that a major health problem for their children is malnutrition. Start by writing the problem at the top of the blackboard or sheet of paper: "Children Are Malnourished." (If members of the group are not literate, you can decide on a symbol together that stands for malnutrition - a stick figure with a sad face, for example). Tell the group that a problem is like a tree and that the causes of the problem are like roots reaching into the ground.

Next, ask the group why they think that children don't have enough to eat. After some discussion, the women may decide that there is simply not enough food in the village, or that the right kinds of food are not available, or that mothers don't give their children breast milk long enough. Write these responses (or use appropriate symbols) as roots branching off the original problem "tree."

Now, take each of the causes in turn and ask the group why they think it is happening. The group may decide that there is not enough food in the village because people don't have enough money to buy it, or because the soil in the fields is poor. Write these responses as other roots branching off the first reasons as in the diagram. Be sure to give participants sufficient time to discuss these problems, using your diagram only to remind them of what they have discovered rather than as an end in itself.


Finally, when the group has discovered the complexity of the problem (and, not incidentally, how much they already know about it), ask them to suggest possible solutions and write them - symbolically or in words, at the bottom of the problem tree. Be sure to stress that these solutions are only possibilities for action, not necessarily final decisions; this will encourage more creativity and less disagreement about what is feasible.