Causal Layered Analysis (CLA)

What is Causal Layered Analysis?[1]

Causal Layered Analysis (abbreviated as CLA) is a group sense-making technique used to explore the underlying causes and worldviews contributing to a situation. Working together, groups made up of people representing different perspectives respond to a central question with:

  • Litany: how they "feel" about it
  • Causes: what's creating the situation
  • Worldview: the perspectives shaping it
  • Myths: the underlying stories feed it

The results of a CLA exercise are often shown as an iceberg, with the Problem visible above the water, and the Litany, Causes, Worldviews, and Myths shown progressively larger below the water. When complete, groups use the CLA to better understand the problem and inform their vision of the future.

CLA Iceberg
source: Philipp Kuerten

Causal layered analysis (CLA) is offered as a new research theory and method. As a theory, it seeks to integrate empiricist, interpretive, critical, and action-learning modes of knowing. As a method, its utility is not in predicting the future but in creating transformative spaces for the creation of alternative futures. It is also likely to be useful in developing more effective — deeper, inclusive, longer-term—policy

The Layers of CLA[2]

CLA presumes four layers of analysis.

  • First, the litany, the official narrative, the public output, and the most visible of any narrative, often based on immediate political decisions, and what would be typically seen in news coverage of the issue. The litany can be changed easily and is what most people will observe about a narrative, often without becoming aware of its deeper foundations.
  • The second layer behind the litany is what has usually been studied academically or is published in more distinguished editorial newspapers. Those are the social causes, political and historical, economic and technological factors, or the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental, political) analysis. Here, the litany or quantitative data gets an interpretative perspective and different agents and actors are analyzed.
  • The third layer is often part of deeper academic discourse. Here, the structures and worldviews and other discourses behind the litany are analyzed with the goal to find deeper, social, linguistic, and cultural structures that are “actor invariant” (Inayatullah, 1998, p. 820) and much less prone to change. Levels of analysis in this layer include the stakeholders that are involved, their ideological background, deeper civilizational and worldview-related aspects, and their epistemic and value orientation.
  • The fourth layer deals with myths and metaphors and all additional deep stories behind the narratives that often remain invisible. It deals with “collective archetypes - the unconscious and often emotive dimensions of the problem” (Inayatullah, 2004, p. 17). At this layer the analysis gets a postmodern, postcolonial and speculative layer, however especially concerning future and space narratives, heavily mystified areas, this might prove to be the most important or most diverse layer.

Historical Background[3]

CLA was first introduced explicitly as a futures research technique by Sohail Inayatullah in a 1998 article for Futures that would come to be widely cited. Later, Inayatullah would edit the CLA Reader, which featured chapters from a number of futurists and practitioners describing their experience with CLA. Inayatullah's work on CLA was examined in a book by Jose W. Ramos in 2003. A 2008 article by Chris Riedy examined the similarities, differences, and possible combinations of CLA and Ken Wilber's integral theory. A 2010 article by Gary P. Hampson explored the relationship between integral futures and CLA further, and also considered Richard Slaughter's critique of CLA. Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojevic published an update in 2015. With various authors, they investigate topics such as:

  • The Global Financial Crisis
  • Terrorism futures
  • Global governance
  • Aging and the changing workforce
  • Educational and university futures
  • Climate change
  • Water futures in the Muslim world
  • The alternative futures of China
  • Agricultural policy in Australia
  • The new national narrative in Singapore

Benefits and Disadvantages of Causal Layered Analysis (CLA)[4]


  • Collaborative and appealing to a wide range of participants
  • Integrative with other foresight methods
  • Supports the development of powerful and richer future scenarios
  • Useful check that constructed scenarios are robust across diverse perspectives
  • Develops shared visions of a preferred organizational future
  • Potential for issue transformation
  • Links short, medium, and long-term strategic thinking
  • Ensures actions emerge from depth, instead of a checklist of things to do


  • Needs a clearly expressed question to be prepared
  • Requires participants to be willing to share their perspectives and challenge their assumptions about how the organization operates
  • Requires acceptance of the basic CLA theory by the participants
  • May constrain action through 'analysis/paralysis'
  • May reduce individual creativity
  • Needs time and requires an understanding of depth and patience
  • Requires an experienced facilitator

See Also