Action Trees

Impact tree for land ownership for Bukonzo Joint

Trees are concept diagrams used for analysis of issues and relationships between different types of inputs and outputs in order to identify and track actions and target achievements.

They can be done individually and/or collectively.

GAMEChange trees all consist of:

  • Issue trunk with vision and current situation, and sometimes other elements
  • Roots and branches as inputs and outputs
  • External forces: wind, rain, subsoil, fertiliser that affect the growth of the tree
  • SMART Action fruits for strategy actions by individuals, groups and organisations.

All elements of the tree: trunk visions/structures, roots, branches and particularly the action fruits can be quantified for monitoring and impact assessment.

Types of Trees

Trees can be of very many types, including:

  • Happy Family or Gender Balance Tree: The Happy family Balance Tree identifies gender and age inequalities in work contribution and expenditure benefits in the household and the changes needed for balance to make the tree grow straight and the tree to be sustainable and thrive.
  • Livelihood / Business / Financial Management Tree: Livelihood Trees are a ‘snapshot’ planning tool to examine existing costs and income structure for particular economic activities and how incomes can be increased through changing costs and/or expenditures to enable reinvestment and savings.
  • Challenge Action Tree: Challenge Action Tree (an action-oriented adaptation of a ‘problem solution tree) examines the causes of challenges, potential solutions to reach a vision and action commitments needed by individuals to move forward.
  • Multi-stakeholder negotiation ‘win-win’ trees to examine different stakeholder perspectives and bring these together as a set of action commitments for each stakeholder.

Action Trees:
DNA Templates

Action Tree: Key Features

The Action Tree is attempting to clarify very complex reality.

They are a snapshot analysis at a particular point in time. Sometimes they are on completely separate topics from the other tools. More commonly they take specific challenges or elements of vision/targets/relationships from the Change Journey, Relationship Map or Diamond Vision. Trees that start by looking at ‘big’ and therefore complicated issues, may need to be subdivided into smaller and more manageable questions before being put back together on a ‘parent tree’.

Although all trees can be adapted for research and impact assessment, the aim is not the analysis itself, but to generate a clear idea of ways forward, with fruits and forces that can be tracked.

All GAMEChange Action Trees have five parts:

  • Issue trunk with vision and current situation, and sometimes other elements
  • Roots as inputs
  • Branches as outputs
  • External forces: wind, rain, subsoil, fertiliser that affect the growth of the tree
  • SMART Action fruits for strategy actions by individuals, groups and organisations.

They are also tracked and shared. They can be quantified to assess progress and compare progress between groups.

The Tree

The trunk can become a mini Change Journey: with vision at the top, current circle at the bottom and other points on the way.

The roots and branches should be between 3-5 and correspond to each other.

Consistent colour coding so that the analysis and strategy tracking is kept clear. Best to start with a draft in pencil, but then distinguish:

  • red ‘ripe fruits’ are drawings and circles for vision and achievements/actions done.
  • black ‘native fruits’ are what is already there.
  • green ‘unripe fruits’ are drawings and circles of positive things yet to be achieved or actions yet to be done. Once one thing is achieved, think of some new green fruits.
  • blue ‘perished fruits’ are drawings, crosses and circle for things thatare to be avoided, no longer want or you know from experience now will not work.
SMART Action Fruits

GAMEChange Action Trees are not just ‘talking shops’.

They must always have SMART ‘action fruits’ or concrete action commitments that can be implemented by individuals within a given time-frame and tracked. Not just vague ‘solutions’ like ‘more training and awareness’. These individual change commitments are shown on the branches (like apples), roots (like potatoes) and/or trunk (like cocoa). It is important also that these should be actions achievable by individuals, not a wish list for someone else or an organisation.

Once all individual actions are exhausted, then support needed from groups or organisations can be indicated as flowers or bees – but these are more fragile and bees only go where there is already lots of honey or they may never come.

Action learning/assessing change

Living action learning plan that is revisited, tracking progress, analysing what works and does not work, and and tracked over time, not left in a drawer until the next workshop or visit by the donor.

Learn from experience: start with one tree, but you can also do more trees to address other issues and challenges that arise from your analysis.

Do an overall assessment: is the tree healthy? how far are you up the trunk towards your vision? If not why? Is this because the roots and branches are unbalanced? Or because external forces are too strong? What are the implications for you next tree?

Change Movement building
  • Share the steps with other people in your households, communities and networks so that they can do their own tree analysis – not copy yours.
  • Meet together regularly to share experiences of what action strategies work and what does not work.
  • Develop collective action trees over time for individual and collective actions to support each other – change starts with the individual, that is where you have responsibility and some control, But not all things can be done alone. And not everything should be just for you if you want a community, society or world that is good to live in.

Action Tree:
Common Steps

Step 1: Trunk

Trees start from a trunk representing an issue/vision/challenge or an institution like a household, business or community.

Draw two lines for the trunk in the middle of the one or two sheets of paper. Leave enough space between the lines for drawings in the trunk and also top and bottom for the roots and branches.

Place a symbol for your vision in the middle of a red vision circle at the top of the trunk.

Put a circle for your current situation in relation to the vision at the bottom of the trunk.

People involved, an interim target or other relevant items can be placed inside the trunk between the two circles.

step 2: roots

to show inputs or causes/dimensions/perspectives.

Divide the roots into parts depending on the issue – this is usually indicated in the specific tool adaptation eg women/men/both, paid production/ marketing/ unpaid household work.

In order to make the diagram manageable, ideally there are 3-5 roots with any other dimensions being subroots of these. Unless the specific topic requires more.

Step 3: Branches

to show outputs or potential solutions.

For each root draw one corresponding branch.

Step 4: Forces

Symbols outside the trunk to show external forces and/or links between roots and branches.

What are the external context forces acting on each side of the trunk or the fertilising/poisoning subsoil underneath? These can be related to e.g gender, economic, political, health issues. These can be opportunities (green that you plan to make sure you access and use) or challenges (blue that you will try to minimise/avoid) that you have taken from your Change Journey.

Step 5: SMART Action Fruits

GAMEChange Action Trees are not just ‘talking shops’.

They must always have SMART ‘action fruits’ or concrete action commitments that can be implemented by individuals within a given time-frame and tracked. Not just vague ‘solutions’ like ‘more training and awareness’. These individual change commitments are shown on the branches (like apples), roots (like potatoes) and/or trunk (like cocoa). It is important also that these should be actions achievable by individuals, not a wish list for someone else or an organisation.

Once all individual actions are exhausted, then support needed from groups or organisations can be indicated as flowers or bees – but these are more fragile and bees only go where there is already lots of honey or they may never come.

Trees can be just individual. The diagram on the left shows a group tree from a participatory group sharing with quantification – this is described in the Tool Guides below.

6: Track, reflect and share

Action Trees are ‘live plans’ that are tracked over time to assess progress, and also to reflect on reasons for progress or lack of it.

  • Fruits achieved are ringed in red as ripe fruits.
  • Fruits that did not work/you no longer wish to do are ringed or crossed out in blue as perished.
  • Fruits that are still in process and still planned are ringed in green.

Consider also the forces – were they as expected or do they need to be adjusted?

And consider the flowers and the bees – did they come and flourish or not?

You can consider whether or not you are progressing towards the vision and make an assessment of how far you are up the trunk. Whether your tree is healthy, or might fall over with the forces pushing unevenly on it.

The important point is to decide what to do next. Add new fruits towards your next Change Journey.

The tool, and also your experiences are also shared with other people to exchange experience of which strategies work and which do not. To help each other progress.

Trees can be just individual. The diagram on the left shows a group tree from a participatory group sharing with quantification – this is described in the Tool Guides below.

Adaptation questions

  1. What is the vision/ purpose/ question? are these broad interrelated elements, or does each thing need its own tree? or do you need to do both?
  2. Whose tree is it? individual? household? community? bringing together many individual trees? developing a collective or organisational cooperation tree?
  3. How many roots and branches? what are the most important categories for this particular tree issue and vision?
  4. Is there a specific timeframe for the action fruits? Should these be decided by the participant? Do you know of group structures and/or organisations who might be included in the analysis?
  5. Are there specific forces you want people to put on their analysis? Or will you just leave this to participants?
  6. How will you ensure gender mainstreaming and inclusion/prioritisation of the minority perspectives of people who start with most disadvantage? Specific icons eg woman/man ? Separate roots/branches (usually women are on one side, men on the other side with a big middle root/branch for common things.

Facilitation

Look carefully at distinctive GAMEchange facilitation guidelines

  1. Can be done as an individual or in large participatory and multi-stakeholder workshops but reflection always starts with the individual, then shared in a systematic inclusive and equitable participatory process.
  2. Make sure no one draws or plans for anyone else – all plans need to be honest reflections on reality, or they will not work.
  3. Facilitator should not hold the pen or dominate, participants should facilitate interactively and their voices should be heard at least 90% of the time – particularly those who start less confident and with greater challenges.
  4. Participants should write songs and/or do role plays/theatre that go through and practise the steps (see examples in videos above)
  5. Reversals of power: Continually develop strategies for gender mainstreaming and inclusion/prioritisation of the minority perspectives of people who start with most disadvantage?

Key points

  1. Colour coding of vision (red) plan (green) current (black) risks and negative things (blue)
  2. Do not get too bogged down in the roots and analysis of causes of causes of causes. The main aim is the action fruits. Also spend time on the forces – as in the Change Journey opportunities and challenges.
  3. Make sure people understand to track and share so that they use their tree and track the fruits as they ripen or perish, not just put it in a cupboard and forget it. If they share with their family, they can do a family action tree and put it on the wall so everyone can track progress.
  4. Empowerment check: are strategies for gender mainstreaming and inclusion/prioritisation of the minority perspectives to change power relations effective?

Some Action Tree Examples

Action Tree origins and evolution in GAMEChange methodologies

Trees are a very common diagram type used in many participatory processes as Problem/Solution Trees, Input/Out Trees, Cause/Effect Trees and so on.

Adaptation by Linda Mayoux of the Challenge Action Trees as an action-oriented version of Problem/Solution Trees for PALS strategic planning started at a participatory workshop Kabarole Research and Resource Centre in Western Uganda in 2002. Business trees were developed with Trickle Up US for work with Bukonzo Joint and Green Home in Uganda from 2004. Development of the Gender Balance/Happy Family Tree was in 2004 as part of work with ANANDI in India and LEAP-PASED in Sudan.

As time progressed, on the basis of experience in community workshops, a number of features were added for clarity and to promote more in-depth and useful analysis by people with high levels of education as well as those who never had access to formal education:

  • use of the trunk to put the vision and current circle to have some relationship with the Change Journey
  • more experience in specification of the roots and branches for particular types of issue
  • colour-coding for tracking and assessment at different levels
  • participatory facilitation process for sharing and quantification

Toolkit Facilitation Examples

Happy Family Tree,
SNV Ethiopia 2017
SNVPALS_Tool4_HappyFamilyTree

Happy Family Tree,
FALS Philippines, 2018
FALS2__HappyFamilyTree_presentation2

Gender Balance Tree quantification
Happy Family Review,
RWEE 2020
RWEE_HFR_3_CAT_GenderBalance

Happy Business Tree,
Business Action Learning for Innovation (BALI)
IFADKGBALI_3_HappyBusinessTree_2019

Challenge Action Tree,
SNV Ethiopia 2017
SNVPALS_Tool5_ChallengeActionTree

CEDAW Challenge Action Tree
2020
3_4_CEDAWChallengeActionTree_2020_1

Leadership Challenge Action Tree
Oxfam Novib ‘Marriage is No Child’s Play’ project
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