Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) and flow diagrams

Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) are a kind of systems thinking tool. These diagrams consist of arrows connecting variables (things that change over time), in a way that shows how one variable affects another. See example on the right.

What I like about CLDs is that contain no judgments about what is right of wrong. They just give you the coherence of relevant factors, the dynamic patterns over time. The allow reasoning following the causal loops, while deciding on desirability of effects and side-effects later. 

Flow or tree diagrams are a kind of model with words or even sentences. They show how one root-variable relates to other relevant variables and produces the issue at stake.

You can make stories with it, like for instance:

".... Two hundred years ago we were founded as constructing organisation; engineers are important here; in tradition all managers are engineers; engineers do not like risks and planning and control dominate projects in constructing; this mindset is also applied to other processes in the organization; like development and implementation of rules for accounting of legitimacy in contract-administrations; rules are about technical practice, with little attention for every day practice on the "work-floor"; this produces problems with implementation in practice". See flow diagram on the right.

Making the diagrams together with people involved, see Group Model Building, serves not only the purpose of analyzing, but can be an important part of producing new stories. In this way, talking about change and actual change are interwoven.

You can make a diagram by drawing on a flipchart, use sticky notes (see example), or use a special software program. I have good experiences with  Vensim, software download free for personal use.


A Causal Loop Diagram in a learning history with the "symptomatic" loop in red, and possible alternative loops in blue (click to enlarge)

A flow diagram (click to enlarge)

Flow diagram using sticky notes (click to enlarge)