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Protocol Toolkit Item: 2c


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A critical part of addressing a problem of practice in community engagement, is identifying the root causes before trying to solve the problem. This protocol provides a framework to capture a group’s ideas about the causes of a problem.


Fishbone Diagram Impact & Effort Matrix 


60 Minutes


Facilitators should make a poster-size copy of the Fishbone Diagram or share an electronic copy with the members of a team so that all can contribute to it. For a fillable electronic copy of the diagram, see the resources section below.  If there are multiple groups working on separate problems of practice, each group should have its own copy of the Fishbone Diagram. Virtual Implementation
  • Use the electronic Fishbone Diagram, ensuring all can edit the document.
  • An electronic Impact and Effort Matrix should be shared with the group as well. A sample is found in the electronic Fishbone Diagram document.
  • Use breakout rooms to create a space for separate teams to work.


Step 1:

Introduce Protocol  Share the following information with participants:
  • When a problem of practice has been identified, it is important to understand the root causes of the problem. We often find ourselves jumping into solutions that may or may not address what is causing a problem. 
  • The Fishbone Diagram is a tool that helps groups identify root causes.
  • As a group, we will come up with ideas about what is contributing to the problem of practice. All voices should be heard as the team discusses possible causes.
  • After a Fishbone Diagram is developed, it is common to validate the causes by looking at data and gathering information and insights from other stakeholders before moving on.

Step 2:

Fishbone Diagram Instructions 
  • Write the problem (PoP) statement identified by the group in the head of the fishbone. See the visual below.
  • Individually, group members should brainstorm their ideas on what might be causing the problem. They may write their ideas on paper or on sticky notes.
  • Group members share their causes with others and the group in a round-robin format. Causes should be added as the bones of the fishbone. Related ideas will be grouped together under a general cause category.
  • The group should gather more information as necessary to validate the root causes. This may include looking at data or gathering information from community members.
  • The group should prioritize the root causes. (See CEI Decision-Making Protocol: Getting Consensus using Thumbs)
  • The group should examine how the causes they’ve identified align with the Dual Capacity-Building Framework Essential Conditions and the Six Root Causes of Ineffective Family Engagement (see Resources).
Sample Fishbone Diagram:
  • Once a group has prioritized the root causes (bones) of their problem of practice, they should decide which root cause to address first (this may be aligned to their prioritized list, or further discussion may need to happen before a decision can be made).
Note: Following the placement of the root causes on the diagram and the prioritization of each cause category, teams should move on to the following steps in addressing the problem of practice.

Step 3:

Changes / Strategies Analysis 
  • Individually, group members should list changes or strategies to address an identified root cause. 
  • As the strategies are shared, they should be placed on the Impact and Effort Matrix for analysis and discussion. An electronic matrix is included with the Fishbone Diagram, or a poster can be created for the group to use.
  • Following the analysis of the changes or strategies with the Impact and Effort Matrix, the group can move into the next phase of the Problem of Practice Protocol and begin to plan and implement the changes or strategies.

Resources & Further Reading

Electronic Fishbone Diagram Dual Capacity-Building Framework Six Root Causes of Ineffective Community Engagement

Examples of Use

This protocol can be used as part of the Problem of Practice Cycle or individually whenever a group needs to identify causes and effects.
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