2.3 The Planning Exercise

The planning process should help stakeholders design programmes or projects that address the right problems and the right causes of those problems. For this reason, stakeholders should undertake a thorough problem and situation analysis before developing goals and objectives or planning programmes or projects. A problem analysis, which is sometimes referred to as a cause-effect analysis, is a requirement for all UN and UNDP programming. For global, regional and country programmes, problem definition and analysis is useful to analyse what is happening in certain sectors and major global, regional and macro-policy issues. At the project level, the analysis may help in understanding specific challenges or issues within a sector, region or community. 

A thorough problem analysis at the programme level may reduce the need for one at the project level. Once the problem is properly analysed in the national strategy, UNDAF, CPAP or other documents, projects can be developed at different times and by different agencies to address the specific causes without undergoing another problem analysis. However, in some situations, only a limited set of stakeholders would have been involved in the programme-level analysis. In other cases, the process may not have been based on a thorough analysis. In these situations, it should not be assumed that all the critical issues at the project or output level have been well identified. A project-level problem analysis involving additional stakeholders, particularly those most affected by the problem, will often help to ensure a better understanding of the challenges, constraints and possible solutions.

Box 6. The Common Country Assessment

The Common Country Assessment (CCA) commissioned by UN development organizations can be a useful tool to aid in identifying and analysing problems. The CCA is most useful when the government, other national partners and the UNCT are involved in the assessment. The problem analysis described in this Handbook is very similar to the process normally used in preparing the analytical sections of the CCA.

The CCA is generally undertaken when there is inadequate data or analysis in place or when additional analysis is needed to better understand the issues. A rigorous CCA provides a strategic analysis of the major problems of the country and their root causes and effects on the population, particularly on excluded groups such as women, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants and displaced persons. It also addresses the opportunities for (and obstacles to) free, active and meaningful participation by stakeholders in national governance and development processes and outcomes.

A well prepared CCA should provide enough information to inform the preparation of a UNDAF. However, additional analysis may be needed for the preparation of agency-specific programmes and projects.

Additional information on the CCA, including examples and tools, can be found on the UNDG website, http://www.undg.org/index.cfm?P=227.

In general, the problem analysis plays a crucial role in:

  1. Developing a clear understanding of not only the surface problems, but also their underlying causes and constraints
  2. Determining the real size and complexity of the problem and the relationships between different contributing factors
  3. Determining how the problem affects groups (women, men, marginalized populations) or may be caused by the unequal treatment of different groups in society
  4. Determining short, medium and long-term interventions that may be necessary for a sustainable solution
  5. Identifying the partnerships that may be necessary to effectively address the problem
  6. Assessing the roles that different stakeholders may need to play  in solving the problem
  7. Estimating the resources that may be required to deal with the problem and its causes

Additionally, the analysis plays an important role in building stakeholder consensus. It is very difficult to develop a common vision and strategy if there is no shared understanding of the problems and their causes.

Considerations at the programme level

For large programmes or in situations where there are insufficient macro-level analysis and data, a series of workshops is recommended for the problem analysis. The analysis will often take several weeks while information is gathered. Partners may need to review existing studies or commission new studies. In some cases, a macro-level capacity assessment may be commissioned to assess key areas of strength and weakness in national capacity that may need to be addressed in the programme.

Considerations at the project level

For smaller projects, focus group discussions and consultations with various stakeholders may suffice to conduct the problem analysis. However, it is generally recommended to bring different stakeholders together in one place so that the whole group may benefit from discussing different points of view. Large or complex projects may require a series of workshops similar to a programme. Even in smaller projects, it should not be assumed that all the issues will be identified and clearly understood by the stakeholders based on only an initial discussion, which may also only involve a few persons. Stakeholders often underestimate the time required to study a problem. This can lead to numerous unexpected issues arising in implementation. Therefore, enough time should be set aside for proper consultation and research.

Step 1: Identifying main problems

Once the stakeholders are gathered together, they should begin looking at the problems to be addressed. (This could be done as part of a CCA workshop, where initial analysis is presented then stakeholders identify priority problems that need further research.) At this stage, the aim is not to define a solution to the problem in the form of a programme or project but to correctly identify what needs to be addressed.

  • Stakeholders should seek to identify the problems facing the region, country or community—not problems for UNDP or a particular stakeholder to solve. (This Handbook will later address how to prioritize and select challenges for UNDP or UNCT programming.)
  • Stakeholders should refer to the original concept note that was prepared.
  • They should be guided by a few key questions:
    • Are the initial problems identified the most critical problems to be addressed?
    • Are we adequately capturing the problems facing both men and women?
    • Are we capturing the problems affecting marginalized groups and the rights of various groups?
    • Are we addressing problems that relate to key issues of national capacity?
  • A key part of the process should focus on discussing what is happening and to whom. This should involve discussing whether particular groups are affected more than others by a denial of their rights.
  • Stakeholders should reflect on these questions as they start identifying the main problems.
  • All stakeholders should brainstorm the major problems as they see them, though it may be necessary to limit the exercise to a certain sector or issue that is within the scope of the stakeholders to address.14
  • Problems should be stated in terms of negative conditions or realities, and not in terms of specific things being unavailable. This is important, as very often the way the problem is stated influences what stakeholders consider to be the solution. For example, consider the difference between stating a problem as (a) “minorities and marginalized groups do not have the right to vote” versus (b) “minorities and other marginalized groups do not participate in elections” or (c) “low levels of participation by minorities in elections.” The first case (a) is an example of formulating the problem in terms of what is missing—in this case, the right to vote. The danger with this approach is that it may lead stakeholders to think that updating laws to extend the right to vote to these groups is a solution. This may then lead to a project being created to update those laws. If the aim, however, was to actually increase voting by minorities and other marginalized groups, then changing the laws may only be one component of the solution. In fact, changing the laws may not result in minorities and other marginalized groups actually voting if there are cultural, economic and other factors that constrain them. The second and third examples (b) and (c) would be better ways of stating the problem as they could lead stakeholders to analyse all the factors causing these groups not to participate or vote. In summary, the problem should be stated in a manner that facilitates thorough analysis and does not bias attention to one particular issue.
  • Similarly, stakeholders should focus on the present and not the future. Problems should not be stated as “if we do not address X, then Y may happen”, or “in the future, X is likely to happen.” In the problem analysis process, which will be discussed later, stakeholders will have the opportunity to review the existing and potential consequences and effects of the problem. At this stage, the focus is on having everyone agree on what the problem itself is. Combining both too early in the discussion can often create confusion over what is to be addressed.
  • Stakeholders should examine all the problems identified against the main questions noted above: Do they adequately capture concerns faced by men and women as well as marginalized groups, and do they address core concerns of national capacity?

Examples of problems that may have been identified in the process include the following:

    • Lack of involvement of women, indigenous and marginalized populations in electoral processes
    • Weak e-governance capacity in key state institutions to engage with the public
    • Electoral laws, systems and processes disenfranchise voters, particularly women, indigenous and other marginalized populations
    • Low levels of engagement of civil society organizations in the oversight of elections
    • Weak capacity of national electoral management authority to administer elections in a free and fair manner

These are only examples of problems relating to governance and particularly elections. Other problems may also be identified in various sectors or themes, such as problems with the environment, climate change, education, economic development and culture.

The list of problems identified is the third deliverable in the planning process. While UNDP or the UNCT may not provide support to national partners on all the identified problems, it is important to have a record of them for analytical purposes and as a possible basis for advocating for action by other agencies or individuals.

Note: The list of problems can be used as part of the UNCT’s plan of engagement and the CCA. Different problems would be selected by different UN organizations to include in their specific country programmes as applicable. At the project level, one or more of these problems would be used in preparing the initial UNDP project proposal during the ‘justifying a project’ stage. 

Step 2: Organizing and prioritizing main problems

Several major problems are likely to be identified during the problem identification process. Some of the problems may appear to be closely related, and some may appear to be causes or consequences of another problem. For example, one person may have identified “low levels of participation in elections by minorities” as a problem, while another person may have identified the problem as “minorities do not have the right to vote.” When this happens, there should be further discussion on which of the statements best reflects the central problem that the group wants to address. In doing this, it helps to examine if some of the problems are actually part of other problems or consequences of those problems. If this is the case, then these should be noted for later discussion.

Once there is agreement on the major problems, stakeholders should prioritize them. The aim of prioritization is first to ensure that the problems are considered critical by the global, regional, national or community stakeholders, and second to determine what challenges UNCT or UNDP will support in the UNDAF or global, regional or country programme or project.

Many public and non-profit organizations use a simple model to determine the priority of problems and which problems to address. The model involves looking at the identified problems through three lenses: value, support, and capacity and comparative advantage. (This is the same model used in UNDG guidance for preparing CCAs and UNDAFs.) Using the earlier examples, the planning team would write down the main problems and ask the stakeholders to consider these using the model described in Figure 5.





Solving this problem would bring significant value to the community:

  • It is a global, regional, national or community priority.
  • It supports the country or region in achieving an MDG or other major development priority.
  • There is regional, national or community ownership of the issues.

We would have support to work towards solving this problem:

  • It is in line with our mandate (Executive Board or Senior Management Support).
  • We can count on the government and others to partner with us.
  • We can count on the support of those with decision-making power and resources.

We would have the capacity and comparative advantage to work on the problem:

  • We have the mandate to act.
  • We have or can put in place capacity to address the problem. (This includes having access to technical backstopping resources from Headquarters or other sources.)
  • We can provide support more effectively or efficiently than others.
  • We have unique resources and/or attributes (e.g., neutrality, legitimacy, reputation, convening role).

The area where all three circles overlap—area 1—is often referred to as the ‘Just Do It’ zone, as it represents a challenge that is a major priority, and for which UNDP or UNCT would have partner support, internal capacity and comparative advantage. Problems classified in this area should be a high priority for UNDP.

Area 2 is often a good area for advocacy—working on these issues could bring tremendous value to stakeholders, and UNDP or UNCT has capacity and comparative advantage. But efforts may be needed to mobilize support and build partnerships and further awareness.

UNDP and UNCT should generally avoid challenges in areas 3 and 4. With respect to area 3, other public, private or non-profit agencies with greater capacity or comparative advantage should provide support. For example, a UN organization engaged in discussions with national partners may not have sufficient capacity or mandate to engage on e-governance or education issues and may be better positioned to address mobilization of women and marginalized groups. Another partner may need to address the e-governance challenges.

Area 4 relates to challenges that may be within the mandate and existing capacity of UNDP—and therefore tempting for UNDP to take up—but may not be national priorities, have sufficient ownership by key stakeholders, or bring value to the community, country or region.

Once the priority problems for UNDP or UNCT support have been identified, stakeholders should put in place a process to gather more information on the problems to feed into the next steps. The prioritized problems are the fourth deliverable in the planning process.

Note:The prioritized problems would be the main ones elaborated in the UNDAF and the CPD. They would also provide the starting point for developing project proposals in the ‘justifying a project’ phase of the UNDP project development cycle.

Step 3: The problem analysis

For each priority problem selected, stakeholders should undertake a problem (cause-effect) analysis. This generally requires additional data. These may include summaries of analyses done on the problems or issues; data or statistics on the problem (the data should be disaggregated by age, gender, socio-economic group, and other variables if possible); and results of macro-level capacity assessments, agency or community assessments and so forth. In preparing a UNDAF or country programme, the CCA should provide most of the problem analysis needed. However in some cases, this may not be available or sufficient. Also, additional analysis with specific stakeholders may be needed at the project level.

If research and data already exist, the stakeholders should rely on these. Otherwise, it may be necessary to commission new research to gain a better understanding of the specific issues. Stakeholders should review the findings from any studies prior to embarking on the problem analysis. This will help inform the quality of the group’s analysis of the problems. In many planning exercises, this process takes place a few weeks after the initial problem identification meeting or workshop, in order to allow time for research and data collection.

Box 7. One difference between a ‘project’ and a ‘results-based’ approach to development
In some situations, the problem may have been previously identified and presented with an analysis and proposal for the government, UNDP or other funding partner to consider. A common problem in these situations is that many project proposals are presented to the funding agency with a fixed solution. Quite often, the solution presented only relates to part of a bigger problem. This is often because the agency presenting the proposal tends to be concerned with obtaining financing for the component(s) for which it has a strong interest. For example, an NGO may submit a proposal for assistance to strengthen its capacity to participate in monitoring national elections. While this may be an important project, it is likely that it would only address part of a bigger problem.
Good results-oriented programming requires that all project-level proposals be subject to a problem analysis to determine whether the stated problem is part of a bigger problem and whether the proposed solution will be adequate to address the challenges. The answers to these questions can sometimes be found, particularly in situations where the projects proposed are within the context of an already designed national programme (such as a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, UNDAF or country programme). However, in many cases, there will need to be deeper discussions of what the larger problem is and what other actions are needed by different partners to solve that problem. The aim in asking these questions is not to slow down the process of project review and approval but to ensure that problems are analysed properly and appropriate solutions are found. These solutions may involve actions beyond the scope of the specific project. This is one of the differences between a project approach and a results focused approach to development.

There are many different types of problem analysis models, including the problem tree that is used in this Handbook.15 The models apply equally to programme and project-level problem analysis. The main purpose of these models is to study the root causes and major effects of problems in order to better design

solutions. A well constructed cause-effect problem analysis diagram will make the process of developing a results map, covered in step 4, much easier.16

Using the problem tree model to undertake the problem analysis (deliverable five), stakeholders will generally:

  • Begin with a major issue or problem that was identified and write it down on the trunk of the problem tree (see Figure 6). For example, one problem identified may be “low levels of public confidence and involvement in national and local processes of governance and decision-making.”
  • Brainstorm on the major causes of the problem. It is often helpful to think in terms of categories of causes, such as policy constraints, institutional constraints, capacity weaknesses, or social or cultural norms.
  • Brainstorm the possible causes of the problem by asking “What is causing this to happen?” Stakeholders should try to analyse the issues at a deeper level. They should explore the extent to which the problem has underlying root causes that may be based on exclusion, discrimination and inequality.
  • Attach the answers to roots of the tree (see Figure 6).  
  • For each answer, drill down further by asking “Why has this happened?” Stakeholders should not stop at the first level of a reason or cause, but ask whether there is something else behind that cause.
  • Repeat this exercise for each cause identified. Stakeholders should stop when they run out of additional reasons or ideas on what is causing the problem.
  • Once the roots of the problem tree are complete, the group should look to see if it provides a good understanding of what has caused the problem. See if there are sub-causes that are repeated on different roots. These are likely to be priority concerns to be addressed in the results framework.




  1. We have identified problems and causes that relate to the policy/legislative environment



  1. We have identified problems and causes that relate to gaps in institutional capacities



  1. We have identified problems and causes that relate to cultural and social norms



  1. We have identified problems that affect men, women and marginalised populations, and the rights of different groups



  1. We can see many layers of causes of the problems we have identified



  1. We have defined the problems in the broadest terms, looking beyond the issues that individual agencies or stakeholders are concerned with



  1. We have defined the problems and their causes without initially focusing only on the dimensions that one or more agencies have capacity to address through projects



In the example in Figure 6, the core problem illustrated on the trunk of the tree in the shaded box, “low levels of public confidence and involvement in national and local processes of governance and decision-making”, could be considered a programme-level problem that could be taken up at the UNDAF and UNCT level. Below the trunk, a narrower problem has been identified, “local levels of public confidence and involvement in electoral systems and processes, particularly among women, indigenous and other marginalized groups.” UNDP and partners might address this challenge in the country programme and projects. For illustrative purposes, another lower-level problem has also been identified in the shaded box “social norms and cultural practices hinder participation by minorities in public decision-making processes.” In this case, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or another agency could take up this challenge in their country programme and projects. The choice of which level and type of problem to work on depends on the partners involved, their capacities and comparative advantages, and the resources available. The same steps in the problem analysis apply at all levels.

Stakeholders often find it helpful to also show and discuss the effects of the problem. In this case, branches can be created on the problem tree to illustrate how the problem affects the region, country or community. The process involves:

  • Identifying the most direct effects of the problem—They can be classified using the same categories as were used for the analysis of the causes, such as policy constraints, institutional constraints, capacity weaknesses, or social or cultural norms.
  • Identifying the main indirect effects of the problem—For example, because of the low levels of public confidence in processes of governance, few people pay their taxes, a direct consequence or effect, which could lead to other indirect problems.
  • Discussing whether the problem affects men and women differently—Both men and women should have an opportunity to comment during the discussions.
  • Discussing whether particular groups, such as marginalized populations (persons with disabilities, indigenous groups, etc.) are affected—Asking whether their rights and interests are affected.

In the project tree example, the effects of the higher level problem are captured in the boxes above the trunk. For a lower level (such as project level) tree, the effects would begin with the immediate boxes above the shaded boxes. In both cases, one of the shared effects would be the low voter turn-out among marginalized groups.

The main difference in a problem tree diagram for a programme as opposed to a project is that the programme-level diagram would normally have a wider range of root causes than the project-level diagram. In other words, the higher the level of the problem identified, the more causes there are likely to be. For example, in the programme-level tree in Figure 6, the problem is stated as low levels of public confidence and involvement in both governance and decision-making. As such, the causes involve problems with not only the electoral processes and systems, but also the capacity of the government to engage citizens through other means. Hence, at this level, there will need to be an analysis of both sets of problems, whereas the project-level analysis would focus on the causes and effects of only the problem related to the electoral process.

Box 8. Note on problem trees

While programme-level problems generally have a wider set of root causes and a more elaborate problem tree, many large or complex projects may also have elaborate problem trees with a wide range of root causes. Even in the cases where a project or lower level problem is the starting point, the analysis should nonetheless lead to the identification of higher level effects of the problem.

Through this process of looking up at the problem tree, stakeholders are likely to identify other causes of the effects of the problem and may conclude that the immediate solution to the project-level problem identified may not be adequate to address some of these other causes of the higher level effects. For example, assuming a situation where a project identified weaknesses in the electoral process and systems as a major problem, an identified effect would be the low levels of public confidence in the electoral process. In examining this effect, stakeholders should assess what other factors may be contributing to it. In doing so, they may decide to either undertake a bigger project, or they may seek to influence other partners and non-partners to take other actions to solve the higher level effects. 

Note: The completed problem analysis would provide critical data for the CCA, UNDAF, CPD and CPAP. At the project level, this problem analysis would be done at the beginning of the 'defining a project stage' of the UNDP project cycle.

Step 4: Creating the vision of the future (deliverable six—the vision statement)

Based on the problem analysis, stakeholders should engage in a process of formulating solutions. This exercise may simply involve rewording the problems and their causes into positive statements or objectives. However, stakeholders should first engage in a visioning process before rewording the problems. The aim of this process is to visualize what the future would look like if the problems were resolved. The benefits of doing a visioning process before rewording the problems include the following:

  • Visioning brings energy to the group. Rather than immediately beginning another detailed process of working on each problem, groups can be energized by thinking positively about what the future would look like if these problems were solved. This exercise encourages creativity and helps ensure that the process is not too analytical and methodical.
  • The vision of the future may identify additional ideas that would not have emerged if the process was confined to simply rewording problems into positive results.
  • Visioning is a good way to engage members of the group who are not relating well to the more structured processes of problem analysis. 
  • Coming to a shared vision of the future can be a powerful launching pad for collective action.
Tip: It is not necessary for all stakeholders who are involved in a problem analysis and visioning process to have prior knowledge or understanding of the results chain or logical framework model. In fact, in the initial stages of the process, it can be very useful not to introduce any of the results matrix or logical framework terminologies (such as outcomes and outputs), as this could result in extensive discussions about the meaning of terms and detract from the main aim of the exercise. In many project settings, especially where there are language barriers or differences in education or skills between members of the group, it may not be necessary to introduce the results matrix and logical framework model. Instead, the process could be approached in a less formal manner to obtain the same information and present it in different forms, including maps, diagrams and pictures.

Vision as the changes we want to see

The objective of the visioning exercise is for stakeholders to come up with a clear, realistic and agreed upon vision of how things will have positively changed in a period of time (normally 5 to 10 years). They should think in terms of how the region, society, community or affected people’s lives will have improved within the time period. Good questions to ask are: If we were successful in dealing with this problem, what would this region/country/community be like in five years? What would have changed? What would we see happening on the ground?

Stakeholders should re-examine their problem analysis and reflect on what they have come up with. After initial reflections, group members should discuss the situation as it now is, assessing the extent to which the problem analysis represents a true picture of the current reality. After reviewing the current reality, stakeholders should visualize and describe what a better future (development change) would look like.

Box 9. Guides to use in visioning

  1. Do not focus on how the situation will be improved, or what needs to be done to change the current situation.
  2. Focus instead on what the future would look like: What is different in the community? How have people’s lives changed? How have things improved for men? For women? For marginalized groups?
  3. Looking at this problem (for example, low public confidence and involvement in governance), what should the country be like in five years?
    1. In what ways would the lives of women, indigenous and marginalized groups be different?
    2. In what ways would government officials and regular citizens behave differently?
    3. How have the capacities of people and institutions been strengthened and are they working more effectively?
    4. In what ways are men and women relating to each other differently?
    5. What else has changed as a result of an improvement in the problem of poor public confidence and involvement in governance?

Once the visioning is complete, stakeholders should articulate their visions in one or more statements or use drawings and images. The vision should be a clear and realistic statement of the future, positive situation. Using the example from the problem tree, the group may develop a vision of a “vibrant democratic society in which all persons, including men, women, youth and minorities, have equal rights and actively participate in the political process and in shaping decisions that affect their lives.”  The vision can become an important tool for communicating the goals and objectives of the programme or project.

A vision statement can be created for each major problem that was identified and analysed. These statements become the sixth deliverable in the planning process. Once the broad vision statement is in place, stakeholders should be ready to embark on the next step.

Note: The vision statement can help in formulating the statements of regional and national goals and priorities in UNDAFs, CPDs, CPAPs, regional programme documents and project documents.

Step 5: Creating the draft results map (deliverable seven)

This step provides guidance on how to create a draft results map using what is commonly referred to as a ‘results mapping technique’. At the end of the section, the Handbook will illustrate how to convert the map into the specific tabular format used by UNDP.

Developing the draft results map can be time-consuming but is extremely worthwhile. The fundamental question that stakeholders in the planning session should answer is “What must be in place for us to achieve the vision and objectives that we have developed in the particular problem area?”

Creating a set of positive results

A good starting point in creating a results map is to take each major problem identified on the trunk of the problem tree and reword it as the immediate positive result with longer-term positive results or effects. For example, if the problem were stated as “low public confidence and involvement in governance” the immediate positive result could be “greater public confidence and involvement in governance.” This could lead to longer term positive results such as “wider citizen participation in elections, particularly by women, indigenous and marginalized populations” and “greater compliance with public policies, particularly taxation policies.”

Likewise, a challenge of “low levels of public confidence and involvement in electoral systems and processes, particularly among women, indigenous and other marginalized groups” could be translated into a positive result such as “greater public confidence and involvement in the electoral process, particularly by women, indigenous and other marginalized groups” leading to “higher levels of citizen participation in elections, particularly by women, indigenous and marginalized populations.”

Results should be stated as clearly and concretely as possible. The group should refer back to its vision statement and see if there are additional long-term effects that are desired. These longer term effects should look like a positive rewording of the ‘effects’ identified on the problem tree. They should also be similar to, or form part of, the broader vision statement already developed.

Note that the first or immediate positive result, that is, the result derived from restating the major problem identified on the trunk of the problem tree, is the main result that the stakeholders will focus on. (Other stakeholders may focus on some of the higher level results, possibly in a UNDAF or National Development Strategy.)

With this immediate positive result, stakeholders should be able to prepare the map of results. A results map (sometimes referred to as a results tree) is essentially the reverse of the problem tree. In some planning exercises, stakeholders create this results map by continuing to reword each problem, cause and effect on the problem tree as a positive result. While this approach works, a more recommended approach involves asking the stakeholders “What must be in place for us to achieve the positive result we have identified?” When groups start with this approach, the process is often more enriching and brings new ideas to the table.

A key principle for developing the results map is working backwards from the positive result.  Stakeholders should begin with the positive result identified in the step before. This is the statement that sets out what the situation should be once the main problem on the trunk of the tree is solved. The aim is then to map the complete set of lower-level results (or conditions or prerequisites) that must be in place before this result can be realized. These are the main tasks for this exercise:

  1. Stakeholders should write down both the immediate positive result and all the longer term results of effects that they are trying to achieve. Going back to our example, this positive result could be “greater public confidence and involvement in governance.”
  2. Stakeholders should then work backwards and document the major prerequisites and changes needed for this result. For example, using the result above, stakeholders might indicate that in order to achieve this, the country may need to have “greater public confidence in the electoral process and in government”, “increased awareness among the population, and particularly by women and indigenous populations, of their democratic rights and of the responsibilities of the state”, “improved  capacity of the state electoral machinery to administer elections in a free and fair manner”, “changes to government policy to make it easier for women and indigenous groups to exercise their democratic rights”, “greater acceptance, tolerance and respect for minorities and indigenous populations” and so forth. Stakeholders should compare these conditions and prerequisites with the set of underlying causes identified on the problem tree. The conditions should read like a solution of those causes or should be closely related to them. Note that while they should be closely related, they may not always be the same.
  3. Next, stakeholders should document other lower level prerequisites that are needed for the first set of changes and conditions to be in place. For example, in order to have “improved capacity of the state electoral machinery to administer elections” there may need to be “bi-partisan consensus between the major political parties to improve electoral laws and the administration of the electoral system.” These lower level results should be closely related to the lower level causes identified on the problem tree. 
  4. Stakeholders should note that these prerequisites are not actions that UNDP or any one group of stakeholders need to take, but rather the set of key things that must be in place. The question should be phrased as “If the country were successful in achieving this positive result we have identified, what would we see happening in the country or on the ground?”, not “What should be done by UNDP or the government?”
Once the various prerequisite intermediate changes have been identified, stakeholders should then identify the interventions that are necessary to achieve them. At this point, only general interventions are necessary, not their implementation details. For example, “bi-partisan consensus on the need for reform of electoral laws and systems” may require “training and awareness programme for key parliamentarians on global practices and trends in electoral reform and administration” or “major advocacy programme aimed at fostering bi-partisan consensus.” Likewise, a result relating to increased awareness of women, indigenous populations, and other
  1. marginalized groups may require a mass-media communication programme, an advocacy initiative targeted at specific stakeholders, and so forth.
  2. Throughout the process, stakeholders should think critically about specific interventions that may be needed to address the different needs of men, women and marginalized groups.

Stakeholders should be aware that the results map may need more thought and narrative documentation over time. In addition, the results map may change as stakeholders gain new information or more understanding about how the programme works or as they begin the implementation process. Therefore, the group should be open to revisiting and revising the map. 

These maps initially avoid the traditional input-to-output-to-outcome linear tables, which tend to confine discussion to an agency’s specific outputs. In this model, the process focuses on all the things that need to be in place, irrespective of who needs to produce them. Returning to our example, a basic results map may look like Figure 7.

Tip: While lower level conditions or interventions are often referred to as outputs, every effort should be made not to label them as such at this stage of the exercise. If labeled as outputs or projects, the tendency will be to concentrate discussions on which agency or partner can produce the outputs, rather than on what needs to be in place, irrespective of whether there is existing capacity to produce it.

In this example, stakeholders have begun to identify additional ‘things’ that must be in place (boxes shaded in red), some of which could be developed as projects.

In developing these models, stakeholders should consider not only the contributions (interventions, programmes and outputs) of UNDP, but also those of its partners and non-partners. This type of model can be extremely useful at the monitoring and evaluation stages, as it helps to capture some of the assumptions that went into designing the programmes. The draft results map is the seventh deliverable in the process.

Box 10. Results map tips

  1. Developing a results map is a team sport. The temptation is for one person to do it so that time is saved, but this can be ineffective in the long run.
  2. Time needs to be taken to develop the map. The more care taken during this phase, the easier the job of monitoring and evaluation becomes later on. 
In developing the map, focus should be on thinking through what needs to be on the ground in order to impact the lives of people. The exercise is not intended to be an academic exercise but rather one grounded in real changes that can improve people’s lives—including men, women and marginalized groups.
Note: The completed results map would provide critical data for the UNDP ‘defining a programme or project’ phase of the programme and project cycle.




  1. We have identified results that relate to addressing policy/legislative constraints



  1. We have identified results that relate to addressing gaps in institutional capacities



  1. We have identified results that relate to addressing relevant cultural and social norms



  1. We have identified results to improve the condition of men, women and marginalized groups



  1. We have identified results that address the rights of different groups in society



  1. We can see many layers of results



  1. We have defined the results in broad terms, looking beyond the specific contribution of individual agencies or stakeholders



  1. The results map provides us with a picture of the broad range of actions that will be needed (including advocacy and soft support) and does not only focus on projects or tangible outputs



  1. The results map shows us where action will be needed by both partners and non-partners in our effort



Identify unintended outcomes or effects and risks and assumptions

While elaborating the results map, stakeholders should note that sometimes well intentioned actions may lead to negative results. Additionally, there may be risks that could prevent the planned results from being achieved. Therefore, it is necessary to devote time to thinking through the various assumptions, risks and possible unintended effects or outcomes.


Assumptions are normally defined as “the necessary and positive conditions that allow for a successful cause and effect relationship between different levels of results.” This means that when stakeholders think

about the positive changes they would like to see and map the prerequisites for these changes, they are assuming that once those things are in place the results will be achieved. When a results map is being developed, there will always be these assumptions. The question to ask is: “If we say that having X in place should lead to Y, what are we assuming?” For example, if stakeholders say that having “high levels of public confidence and involvement in governance and decision-making” should lead to “higher levels of voter turnout in elections particularly among marginalized and indigenous groups”, then stakeholders should ask, “What are we assuming?” or “Under what conditions should this happen?”  Often the assumptions relate to the context within which stakeholders will work towards the desired results. In many situations, interventions are designed assuming the government will take action or allocate resources to support achievement of results. There is often a general assumption of continued social, economic and political stability within the programme’s environment.

Stating assumptions enrich programme design by identifying additional results or inputs that should be included. They also help identify risks. Assumptions may be internal or external to UNDP and the particular programme. When an assumption fails to hold, results may be compromised (see Figure 8).

The assumptions that are made at the lowest levels of the results map can be expected to come true in most cases. For example, if stakeholders had stated that having “a good mass-media communication programme” and “an advocacy initiative targeted at specific stakeholders” should result in “increased awareness of women, indigenous populations, and other marginalized groups”, they may have assumed that sufficient resources would be mobilized by the partners to implement communication and awareness programmes.

A different example is a situation where the result of “high levels of public confidence and involvement in governance and decision-making” was expected to lead to “higher voter turnout.” The stakeholders in this situation may have assumed that sufficient budgetary resources would be allocated to constructing voting centres and improving roads used by rural marginalized populations to get to voting centres.

It could be argued that the assumption in the first example of being able to mobilize resources for the communication and advocacy campaigns is more probable than the assumption in the second example relating to the higher level result. This is because stakeholders usually have a higher level of influence on the lower level results and assumptions.

Additional examples of assumptions include the following:

  • Priorities will remain unchanged over the planning period
  • The political roundtable agreement for bi-partisan consensus will be adopted as expected
  • Political, economic and social stability in the country or region
  • Planned budget allocations to support the electoral process are actually made
  • Resource mobilization targets for interventions are achieved

At this stage, stakeholders should review their results map and, for each level result, ask: “What are we assuming will happen for this result to lead to the next higher-result?” The list of assumptions generated should be written on the results map.

Tip: Though stakeholders will focus most of their effort on achieving the positive result that they have developed, they must remain aware of the longer term vision and changes that they want to see. The assumptions stage is generally a good time to ask: “If we achieve the positive result we have identified, will we in fact see the longer term benefits or effects that we want?” and “What are we assuming?” In this process of thinking through the assumptions being made about the context, environment and actions that partners and non-partners should take, useful ideas may emerge that could inform advocacy and other efforts aimed at encouraging action by others.


Risks are potential events or occurrences beyond the control of the programme that could adversely affect the achievement of results. While risks are outside the direct control of the government or UNDP, steps can be taken to mitigate their effects. Risks should be assessed in terms of probability (likelihood to occur) and potential impact. Should they occur, risks may trigger the reconsideration of the overall programme and its direction. Risks are similar to assumptions in that the question stakeholders ask is: “What might happen to prevent us from achieving the results?”  However, risks are not simply the negative side of an assumption. The assumption relates to a condition that should be in place for the programme to go ahead, and the probability of this condition occurring should be high. For example, in one country there could be an  assumption that there will be no decrease in government spending for the programme. This should be the assumption if the stakeholders believe that the probability that there will not be a decrease is high. Risks, however, relate to the possibility of external negative events occurring that could jeopardize the success of the programme. There should be a moderate to high probability that the risks identified will occur. For example, in another country stakeholders could identify a risk of government spending being cut due to a drought, and which may affect government revenue. The probability of the spending cut occurring should be moderate to high based on what is known.

Risk examples include the following:

  • Ethnic tensions rise, leading to hostilities particularly against minorities
  • Result of local government elections leads to withdrawal of political support for the electoral reform agenda
  • Planned merger of the Department of the Interior and Office of the Prime Minister leads to deterioration of support for gender equality strategies and programmes
  • Project manager leaves, leading to significant delays in project implementation (this type of risk could come during the project implementation stage)

Stakeholders should therefore again review their results map and try to identify any important risks that could affect the achievement of results. These risks should be noted beside the assumptions for each level of result.

The following checklist can assist in reviewing risks and assumptions:




  1. The assumed condition is outside the control of the programme or project 



  1. The assumed condition is necessary for programme success.



  1. The assumed condition is not a result that could be included in the results framework



  1. There is a high probability that the assumption will hold true



  1. The assumption is specific and verifiable–its status can be checked by calling partners or donors



  1. The assumption is stated as if it is actually the case



  1. The risk is clearly beyond the control of the programme



  1. The risk is NOT simply the negative restating of an assumption



  1. The consequences of the risk are sufficiently grave as to pose a serious threat to overall programme success



  1. There is a moderate to high probability that the risk may occur



Unintended outcomes

Programmes and projects can lead to unintended results or consequences. These are another form of risk. They are not risks that a programme’s or project’s activities will not happen but are risks that they will happen and may lead to undesirable results. 

Once the results, assumptions and risks are in place, stakeholders should discuss and document any possible unintended results or consequences. The discussion should centre around the actions that may be necessary to ensure that those unintended results do not occur. This may require other small adjustments to the results map—such as the addition of other conditions, prerequisites or interventions. It is not necessary to put the unintended results on the map itself.

Box 11. An unintended result: “Our husbands weren’t ready for these changes”
In one country, an evaluation was conducted on a programme designed to train and provide capital to women micro-entrepreneurs. The programme was part of a broader strategy aimed at fostering women’s empowerment through increased income and livelihood opportunities. The evaluation found that the intended results were achieved: the training and micro-enterprise programme were successful and women who participated in the programme saw an increase in self-employment and income. Moreover, the women felt more empowered to make decisions for themselves and within their households.

However, the evaluation also found that many of the women were unhappy at the end of the programme, as there had been an increase in marital and partner problems and a few relationships had ended as a result of the changes in the women’s empowerment. Some of the women reported that their partners were not prepared for these changes and did not know how to relate to them. They suggested that maybe these problems could have been less had there been some counseling provided to their partners at the beginning and during the programme to better prepare them for the coming changes.