But why technique

By asking simple “why?” questions, this technique helps to identify assumed root causes and contextual conditions of a societal problem.

Strenght of the method:The method invites critical thinking about assumed root causes on equal footing. (It has a straight forward way to visualize the discussion which also allows to synthesize results from small group discussions on one sticky note wall.)
To be considered:
  • The quality of the results depends on the groups’ composition and the facilitation. As the method is stronger in collecting existing assumed root causes than in collectively detecting new ones, the results strongly depend on the heterogeneity of the participants. Furthermore, the facilitator should actively encourage contributions from everyone and the reflection about different perceptions/assumptions in the group.
  • The method focuses on collecting assumed root causes; further steps are required to capture the level of agreement/disagreement with these (amongst participants and additional actors).

  • The method is focusing on community problems, but may be adapted to any societal problem.

  • The method is an adaptation of the “5 Whys” technique, originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda.

Read here about the rationale of the brief factsheets (in comparison to method profiles of the td-net toolbox):


The method collects and visualizes assumed root causes of a societal problem to increase the understanding of a problem (and joint ownership).

Location in td process phases:Problem framing
Problem analysis (if focus is on system knowledge; the method is less useful to focus is on transformational knowledge or target knowledge)
Bridging thought styles:The brainstorming format allows the collection of different perspectives on a societal problem on equal footing. Furthermore, by adding the question why here? to the question why?, different contextual conditions for (tackling) the root causes can be identified. In the above mentioned method description, different contextual conditions of communities are at stake, but it could also encompass different contextual conditions of thought collectives such as disciplines, professional associations/standards,…. (If you’re interested in adapting the method, please contact us: td-methods@scnat.ch).
Time required to implement the method:1 hour – 1 day
Preparation requiered:
  • watch the video to learn about the difference between root causes (“why?”) and contextual conditions (“why here?”); watch the example for sequencing between “why?” and “could it be prevented?” and “how?”
  • carefully select the participants; this requires a preliminary screening of actors and discourses
Expertise requiered:

Facilitation ability to elicit the perception of everybody.

Convener & participants:

Open to anyone: Community, professionals, researchers, governmental bodies

For a detailed description of the method (online, open access), please visit:

Resource compilation in which it appears:

(designed for stakeholder engagement in general, without specific focus on research projects)

Provided by:

Main description provided by Christine Lopez; Video explicating the “but why” and “why here” method provided by Paul Evensen

Please note that method is an adaptation of the “5 Whys” technique, originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda.

Recommended by:td-net