WRIT 220 Causal Loop Diagram Assignment 1

WRIT 220

Causal Loop Diagram Assignment 1

Submission Details

Date: Week 8

Value: 10%

Length: 80 words minimum

Format: Causal loop diagram with TWO feedback loops (these loops don’t need a common element)

Submission: To the appropriate link in “Assignments,” upload a link to Kumu.io or a pdf version of the diagram

Purpose and Goals

We’ve moved from the categorisation phase into the visualisation phase. In PHASE 3: Visualise, you’ll use two more systems thinking tools to think through and to visually represent the complex problem (water insecurity). This phase begins with a connection circle (optional) and ends with a causal loop diagram. During the visualisation phase, we discover the cause-and-effect relationships that connect the elements in our iceberg model. We’ll be creating a type of infographic called a causal loop diagram. It’s both a thinking tool and a presentation tool that helps us understand the behaviour of a system over time. The focus of this assignment is on creating a visual representation of the problem explanation of your technical research report.

Total Time and Word Count

This assignment should take 5 hours and the total word count should be 80 words minimum.

Assessment Method

Remember that the assessment method for this course is a labour-based grading contract. This means that you’ll receive feedback on this assignment, but you won't receive a numerical or letter grade. On this assignment, your feedback will be “Complete”, “R&R (revise and resubmit)”, or “Ignored -10%.” Since this assignment is due in the second half of the semester, the last day that it will be accepted (including revisions) is Fri 22 Apr. For a full explanation, review the labour-based grading contract in Getting Started.


To develop content for your causal loop diagram, use the sources that we’ve annotated and others

as needed. Any information taken from sources must be paraphrased effectively.

1 Adapted from Janice Malloy's  "Learning About Connection Circles" and the systems tools at the  Waters Center for Systems Thinking.


•  Module 6: A System Thinking Process, Phase 3: Visualisation

•  Materials attached to this assignment


Your causal loop diagram should be focused on cause-and-effect connections, and

elements in a feedback loop are both cause s and effects. As you make connections, remember that the tail of an arrow is a cause and head of the arrow is its effect. For example, if you’re making a connection between income and money to spend on food, it’s more logical for income to be at the tail of the arrow and money to spend on food to be at the head of the arrow. In other words, bringing in less income will result in less money available to buy food; someone’s food spending is not going to change how much money a job pays. Think and even talk through the logic as you’re making connections.


As soon as you make a connection, explain in writing how and why each connection

works. Here are some examples:

Positive connections “+” sign between elements

•   As access to dependable transportation increases, students are more likely to be on time for class.

•  As sugar intake increases, the potential for new cavities increases.

Negative connections “-” sign between elements

•   As extracurricular activity obligations increase, students m ay not have the time to complete homework.

•  When people brush their teeth, the potential for new cavities decreases.


As you tell each link’s story, think carefully about the source or sources you’re going to

use to support the connection. If you can’t find support for this connection, you’ll need to

rethink your elements. As you go back into the sources to find the support you need, be strategic by using the search features in the social annotation program.


Remember that your system map should be focused on cause-and-effect connections and that elements in a feedback loop are both causes and effects. To construct a coherent narrative out of your map, the connections need to be both logical and direct. For example, to say that wind turbines reduce climate change is grossly oversimplified because wind turbines themselves don’t reduce climate change.

If we write our way around  one feedback loop, wind turbines reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are burned to generate electricity. If fewer fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity, less carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere. If less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, anthropogenic (human -caused) climate change will be reduced. If climate change is reduced, we have evidence that wind turbines played a role in this reduction, and the disadvantages and unintended consequences of turbines are acceptable, we might increase our investment in more wind turbines, creating a virtuous, reinforcing loop where things could keep getting better and better.


Please read completely the labour process below first, then follow each step carefully for the assignment to be considered complete :

1.   Choose one major theme that connects to your topic statement. For example, one food insecurity theme is the misconception that food charity (including food banks) is helping. A theme will be repeated and appear in titles, subtitles, even picture captions. If you generated a word cloud, which words would be the largest? On the other hand, a theme should NOT be the problem we’re describing (water insecurity) or an even broader problem (poverty). We’ll

generate deeper insights if we can identify a theme that is grounded in water insecurity and your topic.

2.   Choose at least 5 elements that seem to be related to the major theme. Elements can be a tangible or concrete resource like income or an intangible or abstract belief like racism. Then, it can help to rephrase each element as a noun phrase that can increase or decrease: “Amount of…”, “Level of…”, “Number of…”

3.   Arrange the elements in a circle and start connecting them. Remember that each connection implies a cause and effect and that causes are at the tails of arrows and effects are at the heads of arrows. Each time you make a connection with an arrow, label the direction of causality with a “+” sign (some call it “same”) means that when one element goes up the other goes up OR when one element goes down the other goes down. A “-” sign (some call it “opposite”) means that when one element goes up the other goes down. Then, write a sentence that explains how and why the connection works. It really helps to do this with a partner!

4.   When you run out of steam, examine the connections you’ve created. It’s okay for some

elements to have multiple connections, but you should delete elements that don’t have any


5.   When you’re finished, you should have three to five elements in a feedback loop (closed loop) which means that each element is at the tail of an arrow AND the head of an arrow. If you don’t have any loops, replace some elements and look for more connections. Again, it really helps to do this with a partner!

6.   Label your feedback loop (reinforcing or balancing) and describe its behaviour (vicious, virtuous,

stabilizing, or stagnating).

7.   Go back to step one and select a second major theme.

8.   Identify any elements that appear in both feedback loops. It’s okay if you don’t have repetition. If

one is repeated, it becomes a common element between the two loops. This is a very important discovery! If more than one is repeated, you risk having two feedback loops that tell the same story, and it won’t lead to a problem explanation that deepens our understanding of the problem.

9.   When you have two feedback loops, you’re ready to start writing your problem explanation.

Each feedback loop will be the focus of one “story,” and your problem explanation should include at least two “stories.”


1.  Set up a free account at Kumu.io. For more privacy, consider using a different password here than you usually use for email.

2.  Click on "New Project", give it a name, and select the first available "Systems" template.

3.  Click on the green plus sign at the bottom of the screen, select "Add element," and

type in the element. Drag your elements around so you can clearly view each one.

4.  Click on the green plus sign at the bottom of the screen, select "Add connection," and connect the two elements with an arrow.

5.  Click on the arrow between two elements until a pencil icon and “Label/Type” boxes appear. Select a "+" or "-" sign from the menu. In the “Label” box, tell the story of your link. Explain how and why the connection works.

6.  Click on the green plus sign at the bottom of the screen, select “Add loop”, click all connections that will be part of the feedback loop, and label and describe your loop.

Causal Loop Diagram Checklist

Does the map contain two feedback loops with or without a common element?
Does each feedback loop contain at least 3 elements?
Does each arrow contain a positive “+” or negative “-” sign to imply the direction of causality and a sentence that tells the link’s story (how and why the connection works)?
Is each connection direct and logical?
Is each feedback loop labelled as either reinforcing or balancing?
Is each reinforcing feedback loop described as vicious or virtuous? Is each balancing loop described as either stabilizing or stagnating?