Problem Trees and Objective Trees

Speeches Shim


Problem trees help us understand the causes of key problems a CDCS identified as well as the downstream effects of a problem. An Objective Tree is a graphic tool for displaying a hierarchy of results. USAID Results Frameworks incorporate this tool. Developing an Objective Tree involves the transformation of problem statements into a vision of how things would be if that problem were reduced or eliminated, and what it would take to achieve that vision.

Problem Tree


Problem and solution trees: a practical approach for identifying potential interventions to improve population nutrition 
Where trade affects access to important food products.

Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation and Logistics
Particularly the problem diagnostic questions, pp. 35-39


During project design, problems identified when the CDCS was developed are reanalyzed to be sure they are properly specified. Once the problem a project will address is confirmed, the focus shifts toward solutions. Design involves the restatement of problems as desired results, or solutions; consideration of alternative approaches for achieving desired results and the formulation the chosen approach as a chain of linked "in/then" hypotheses.

With the CDCS Results Framework in mind, a Project Design Team is expected to review the development challenge addressed by the IR a project will address to ensure specific and accurate problem identification. The problem statement, recast as an IR, will be the focus of the “purpose statement" of the project's Logical Framework. There are various tools Missions can use to conduct problem identification (e.g., fishbone analysis, problem tree, force field, and SWOT (Strengths-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat) analysis). When the problem has been fully analyzed, the Design Team may find it useful to construct an Objective Tree that reframes the central problem and its causes as changes or results to be achieved.

Problem Trees and Objective Trees - graphic1

It is anticipated that in most countries a problem analysis during project design and the development of an Objective Tree based on that analysis will reconfirm that the Mission's CDCS DOs and focal IR remain valid. These analytic steps may however illuminate additional options with respect to how to solve problems, and help to specify the Outputs projects will need to produce if they are to achieve IRs and Sub-IRs identified in the CDCS. Inputs, which are processes rather than results, will not normally be displayed on an Objective Tree, which like a Results Framework, is a tool for displaying results at various levels in a results hierarchy.

The Objective Tree shown above includes a CDCS Goal, DO and IR that are similar to the kinds of results included in approved USAID CDCSs that incorporate a trade focus. In such CDCS's export/import gains and other types of trade performance improvements are at the IR level, where they could become the Purpose of a project. Reducing the time and cost of moving goods is a result that a Mission with a trade focus might identify as a Sub-IR either in its CDCS or later when the project design process commences. At the next level down in an Objective Tree, major outputs needed to bring down the time and cost of moving goods would be added by the project design team after considering alternative ways of proceeding. The next step in the design team's Process would be to use the information this Objective Tree to begin constructing a Logical Framework for the project.

When conducting a problem analysis, consider using models of processes in the sector of interest to ensure that a wide range of factors are considered. For trade projects where trade facilitation improvements may be sought, a model called the International Trade Transaction Process from the U.N Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), shown below, suggests a number of trade transaction factors where issues might exist.

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A toolkit developed and implemented by:
Office of Trade and Regulatory Reform
Bureau of Economic Growth, Education, and Environment
US Agency for International Development (USAID)

For more information, please contact Paul Fekete.

Last updated: July 12, 2021

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