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Causal Layered Analysis

Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) is a futures technique that can be used in many circumstances, in particular in the construction of scenarios. Its creater, Sohail Inayatullah, says that he uses CLA for all scenario writing (pers. comm.). Some suggestions are given in this recipe.

CLA draws on poststructuralist theory for its foundation. It is based on the premise that the way issues are framed strongly influences how they are understood, and therefore limits the perceived scope of possible change. As a method, CLA attempts to widen the frame in a systematic way.

Inayatullah began developing CLA in the early 1990s, starting from a conceptual base laid by by Richard Slaughter. A recent description of the approach appeared in reference [1]. A forthcoming book, The CLA Reader: An Integrative and Transformative Methodology, planned for release in 2004 from Tamkang University Press, will illustrate the method with case studies from around the world.

This recipe is based on reference [1], as well as the draft of a chapter in the forthcoming reader, “Causal Layered Analysis: A ‘Cookbook’ Approach” by Serafino De Simone. De Simone states that the procedure can be adapted and shortened if necessary, depending on the goals and constraints of the exercise where it is being applied.



A CLA asks participants to explore four different layers of understanding the issues of concern:

  1. Litany: Surface, easily-verified comments such as, “Water shortages are likely.” These generally leave speaker and hearer feeling that “someone” should do something.
  2. Social Causes: Statements invoking actors and their structural relationships, such as, “If only government would manage water better there would be no shortages.” These statements tend to suggest incremental policy changes as the solution to problems.
  3. Discourse/Worldview: Grand, “big picture” statements that challenge assumptions on the previous two levels, such as, “We need a Left-Green water system, not a market system!” The key at this level is to search for positions that reflect deeper, generally non-negotiable worldviews.
  4. Myth and Metaphor: Folk sayings, slogans, archetypes and ancient stories, such as “God gave earth to man to do with as he wishes,” or a story of water and progress, of man’s ingenuity solving the challenges Nature gives.

A CLA conducts both a vertical analysis, which cuts across layers, and a set of horizontal analyses that examine each layer.

Connecting to Scenarios

There are several ways to connect a CLA to a scenario exercise (Inayatullah, pers. comm.). For example:


  1. The Vertical Gaze: Uncovering Causaility
    This step exposes the underlying causality of the issue in question. Usually this starts at the Litany level, then moves through to Myth and Metaphor. At each level, the facilitator may ask prompting questions to guide discussions. For example:
  2. Horizontal Gazes: Discovering Alternatives
    This step asks questions that allow other ways of knowing to be discovered, within a given layer. Initially this takes place at the Social Causes and Discourse/Worldview levels:
  3. Re-Envisioning the Myth and Metaphor
    There are two goals at this stage: 1) Uncover the underlying myths and metaphors that constrain current thinking. 2) Capturing a new story or image of the collective beliefs that reflect the utopian wishes of the group in regard to the issue. The two visions should then be contrasted.
  4. Recasting the Issue and Defining Possible Solutions
    Starting with the reformulated story/image from the previous step, go up the layers to recast the issue/problem at each level. The “Causal Layered Analysis Table” in the appendices of reference [1] can help organize this stage.
  5. Selecting and Documenting Solutions at Each Level
    Select a manageable number of solutions for further use in the foresight process. Usually, this involves selecting one issue or solution from each layer:


[1] Inayatullah, Sohail. 2003. “Causal Layered Analysis: Unveiling and Transforming the Future” in J.C. Glenn and T.J. Gordon, eds. Futures Research Methodology version 2.0. Washington, D.C.: AC/UNU Millennium Project.