Causal Mapping in Small Groups

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Causal Mapping in Small Groups[edit]

This script is used to get an initial idea of central concepts and their relationships at the beginning of a project. The goal of this script is to initiate and elaborate causal loop diagrams by building inclusive conversations within subgroups.


Promising Practice

Primary nature of group task:



Preparation time: 20 minutes

Time required during session: 40 minutes

Follow-up time: 30 minutes


Either three flip charts, OR wall space on which several flip charts are taped, OR a whiteboard, markers and flip chart


Reference Model

Graph over time charts

A list of primary and secondary variables


  • Interim output/product: increased consensus on dynamic hypothesis, or a possible structural explanation for observed behavior within sub-groups
  • Deliverable: sub-group causal loop diagrams which would be used as forming sub groups’ dynamic hypothesis and establishing group consensus of a convergent group model.


  • Facilitator/modeler with experience in introducing and building formal models
  • Co-facilitator with experience of drawing causal loop diagrams and group facilitation
  • Community facilitator who is culture sensitive and familiar with stakeholders in the room and some group facilitation skills
  • Observer with experience of group model building experience


1. The facilitator provides and overview of the group agenda and introduce the session goals

2. The facilitator writes the problem variable in the center of the while board. The facilitator demonstrates building a causal loop diagram by drawing and explaining an example. The facilitator reviews the concepts of reinforcing and balancing loops.

3. The facilitator reminds the group of the problem variable by reviewing the reference mode of behavior and the lists of graphs over time and variables elicited in previous sessions. Keep the list of elicited variables at the same place that is visible to the group participants.

4. The facilitator invites participants to count by “1,2,3” and break participant into three or four sub-groups depending on the size of the whole group.

5. Invite sub-groups to build the model within their groups by following steps below:

a) Ask participants which variable from the collected list is a cause for changes in the problem variable. When someone in the group makes a suggestion, include this in the drawing of the model in order to visualize what is meant, he/she needs to check with other group members if they agree with the proposed relation. If someone disagrees, he/she can ask for clarification and try to determine what the group thinks the relationship should be. Remind the group that if a discussion goes on too long, the group can choose to temporarily 'park' this item and continue with another part of the model.

b) After spending some time doing this, remind sub-groups to proceed to the consequences of changes in the problem variable.

c) Remind sub groups that the goal is to build inclusive conversations and hopefully there will not only be variables that have a direct relationship with the problem variable, but also have a few logical chains of reasoning (via intermediate variables) into the model.

d) Give a five-minute notification to allow sub-groups to end their conversation and summarize main feedback loops or stories. The sub-group will choose a speaker to present to the whole group.

e) The facilitator and co-facilitator will walk around and help participants if they need it. They will also reinforce group behaviors by pointing out positive outcomes generated during sub group conversations.

6. The facilitator invites sub groups to share main stories and parked issues. After each group, the facilitator will ask if other group members have anything to add or revise, the facilitator will ask for feedbacks from other sub groups.

7. The facilitator summarizes overlapping loops and emerging ideas that might be used to for establishing a convergent group model. The facilitator will inform the group what has been done and what will happen with the final products.

8. Observers and community facilitators will share their feedbacks around group dynamics before closing the session. The facilitator will close the session with a few concise conclusions.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Improvement in quality of communication, insight, consensus on the problem, and commitment with regard to causal loop diagrams
  • Participants understand the overall concepts of building causal loop diagrams and generate a set of causal loop diagrams that reflect group consensus on the problem and tend to converge to a final group causal loop diagram
  • Inclusive discussions within sub-groups and joint group conversations


Ellis Ballard, Associate Director of Social System Design Lab




It is recommended that groups have this session at the same day of building graph over time. This script is typically followed by Causal Mapping in Large Group.