Multiple Cause Diagram
A multiple cause diagram is a tool that systems practitioners use to find out why an event has
happened. It’s a way of answering the question ‘How did things get into this state?’ By mapping the
events and interactions between people, reflection can occur and strategies for changing the situation
can begin to be formulated. To make a multiple cause diagram is very simple. Create a text box and
write some words in it about one of the issues or events you think relate to the Forest Common
situation, from one of the stakeholder’s perspectives. Is there a causal relationship between this and
another statement in this situation? If so, write it down and create an arrow by clicking the ‘new arrow’
button. To move the arrow around, click on its shaft, and drag it to the new location. To move the
direction the arrow is pointing, click the head of the arrow, and drag. You will see a direction indicator
appear. When you have the arrow head in position, release the mouse button. Remember that the
links between things are important, so don’t forget to label the arrows where appropriate.
If you want to see an example, click on our ‘Multiple Cause Diagram’ button below.
Multiple cause diagrams (MCDs) are used to explore why an event happened or why types of events
tend to happen. They do not predict behaviour but can give clues and indicate factors to bear in mind
in similar types of situations. What has happened, for example, in previous situations comparable to
Forest Common? What types of factors have led to what types of outcomes?
Multiple cause diagrams can also help you find out why things go wrong or similar situations keep
recurring (like a loop) so that you can learn how to do things differently next time. They can aid
reflection and strategy formulation. For example, from looking at similar situations to Forest Common,
what could a stakeholder do to improve the situation from their perspectives and/or to achieve more
agreement and less conflict? Once again, perspectives, interests, values and priorities should not be
forgotten as important factors. MCDs are always created from, and represent, a perspective.
Multiple cause diagrams consist of a system boundary; phrases describing factors, events, etc. that
cause, contribute to, lead to, enable something else to occur (like a ‘knock-on effect’); arrows that link
the events, (which can be labelled) and a title that defines the system of interest. These links will
extend across the boundary to include interactions with the environment.
It’s best to start with the factor/event you want to explain and work backwards, e.g. neglect, or
rejuvenation, of Forest Common, depending on perspective; economic situation of local community;
proposal to develop Forest Common; different viewpoints on the future of Forest Common;
emergence of conflict…
Labelling arrows can help in identifying different types of contribution/cause. After ‘finishing’ a draft of
a MCD always go back and think through it again. Does it follow and do you need to add any
relationships? An MCD is not a snapshot of elements of a situation like a systems diagram. It is
dynamic and is read sequentially (i.e. following the arrows). It relies on a process of positive and
negative feedback and connectivity.