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Problem Analysis: Social Process Triangles

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180 - 36018 + High

Using the Social Process Triangles created by the Institute of Cultural Affairs to identify a broad range of issues faced by a community, followed by the Consensus Workshop Method to see larger patterns of issues.



To get a broad perspective on the issues facing a village, community or town, an organisation, incorporating the language of the Social Process Triangles, to identify the breadth of the problems a unit is facing.





    Setting: Copies of the Social Process Triangles (SPT's) down to the 3rd level for each participant. A wall sized version of the SPT's

    ONLINE:  Prepare the digital whiteboard according to process flow, see comments below

    Time needed: 3 - 6 hours

    Pre-Work Required: The Facilitator should be familiar with the situation.

    Facilitator personality fit: Some knowledge of the Social Process Triangles is needed


    1. We want to take a look at the issues we are facing as a group. We want to be as inclusive as possible in our view. We will do that by using a tool called the Social Process Triangles.

    2. Review the Social Processes down to the 3rd Level.  (Economic Processes:  Resources, Production and Distribution;  Political Processes: Order, Justice and Well-being;  and  Cultural Processes:  Wisdom, Style, and Symbol)

    Process Steps

    Understanding the Social Process Triangles

    1. Now we need to split up into 9 groups. Each group will concentrate on 1/9 of the Social Process Triangles. One team will focus on Resources, one on Production, one on Distribution, one on Order, one on Justice, one on Welfare (Well-being), one on Wisdom, one on Style and one on Symbols.

    2. In your group, discuss the triangle and its sub-triangles. Give several examples of your triangle.  e.g. an example of a technical resource is farm equipment. You've got 10 minutes.

    3. Have each group report. This should be short and very quick. You are interested in how well they understand their triangle.

    Working ONLINE: Place the image of the Triangle on the digital whiteboard.

    Brainstorm using the Social Process Triangles

    4. Individually brainstorm up to 25 issues we face as a group in your triangle. The question we are answering is "What are problems we are facing in the next 4 to 5 years?" You should refer to the sub-triangles in your triangle but the number of brainstormed items doesn't need to be equal to each sub-triangle. Please do this individually.

    5. In your small group collect the 3 most important items from each person in the team. Put them on a flipchart. Combine any duplicates. Ask for additional important items that are different from the ones listed so far. Combine duplicates. Continue this until you have 25 items on your flipchart. Put each item on a separate landscape A4 card. You have 30 minutes to do this. Are there any questions?

    Working ONLINE: Prepare one area for each group to post the items they agreed on on post-its.


    6. Whole group: Put up 8 -10 columns with symbols at the top. Each column should be the width of the landscape A4 sheet. When every team is ready you can begin.

    Working ONLINE: Prepare an area with columns on the whiteboard for groups to move their post-its 

    7. I would like each team to select the 3 cards/post-its that are the most concrete issues they have. Please pass them to the front when you have finished.

    8. Select the first card and put it in a column. Select the second card and ask," Is this issue closely related to this first issue?" If yes, put it in the same column. If no, put it in a different column.

    9. Continue with this same process until first round of 15 cards is finished.

    10. When all the cards/post-its are up, review the names of the cards in each of the columns. If you run out of columns you can add more or use the top and bottom of a column when the groups of cards are similar.

    11. I would like each team to select 3 more of their cards/post-its that are different from the ones that are up now.

    12. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until the second round is complete.

    13. Read the cards/post-its and give a one or two word "holding title" for each column or part of column. Do not write it above the columns.

    14. Repeat steps 11 and 12.

    15. Read the cards/post-its and put titles above each column or each part of column that is a unique problem. Try to use at least 3 words.


    16. Give some examples of the type of title. (see notes below)

    17. Read the cards/post-its in one column. Ask, " What is the area that this cluster of cards points to?".  When you have agreement about the area, ask, "What would be a two-word description of the problem or issue in this area.?" 

    18. Repeat this for two or three columns. Divide the rest of the columns among the teams and have them assign names of issues. You may want to have them collect the cards for their column. (If you are concerned about the quality of the titles them go through all of them with the whole group, although this may take more time.)

    19. Ask for reports from the teams. Have them read the list of cards and then give the name of the issue. Check to see if the groups agree with them.

    1. We want to reflect a little on what happened.

    2. What was an issue that struck you?

    3. What were some of the emotions expressed during the session?

    4. What did you learn from this session?

    5. What is the next step we need to do with this?

    -This can be done with a community, neighbourhood, organisation or at a country level.

    -You might need to explain what a brainstorm is. 

    -You would like from 100 to 150 brainstormed items. The number of people determines how many teams and how many items from each team. In this workshop we are assuming 5 teams of from 5 to 10 people each.

    - A good way to name problems is to use the following format: Adjective verb preposition adjective noun. For example: "Management Pressure to Reduce Costs" or "Consistent Overrun of Budget Estimates". The best way of doing this is to do the last two words first which point to the social area the issue is in. The first two words identify the problem.


    Source: The Institute of Cultural Affairs

    History of Development: This beginnings of this method was used in the Ecumenical Institute's Summer Research Assembly in 1971.

    Jon Jenkins put it in this format.

    Comments (2) (5.0 avg / 1 ratings)

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    • If you give groups cards colour-coded to the colour of the triangle they are working on, you can track where the problems originated -- the clusters by root issue will go across those categories, and you will be able to see which root issues are sustaining a wider range of problems across the social process.

      over 4 years ago
    • From my long experience with this method, I suggest that if the brainstorm is diverse, the total brainstorm number does not need to be more than 60 or so for validity-- after that, there will be considerable overlap. So each of the 9 groups needs to come up with only around 8 very different problems related to their section of the social process. If clustering the problems is done by looking for where they point to a similar root issue, and the naming is aimed at naming a root issue, the work will be very illuminating.

      over 4 years ago