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Driver Diagrams  

What is it and how can it help me?

Driver diagrams are a type of structured logic chart with three or more levels (see example below). These would include:

1. a goal or vision
2. the high-level factors that you need to influence in order to achieve this goal (called ‘primary drivers’)
3. specific projects and activities that would act upon these factors

For more complex goals the number of levels in a driver diagram can be expanded so that each primary driver has its own set of underpinning factors (i.e. ‘secondary drivers’ etc.). It is these secondary drivers (or lower level drivers) that would then be linked to projects and activities.

Driver diagrams provide a “theory of change”. An example of a driver diagram for a simple goal is shown below.

Driver Diagram example 1 

This diagram shows how a basic goal to ‘decrease fuel costs’ can be achieved in three different ways. In some driver diagrams these ‘primary drivers’ would be things that have to occur together to achieve the goal. In other diagrams they may be listed as options for reaching the goal.

Notice that in this example, one of the primary drivers is broken down to two lower level ‘secondary’ drivers and that one of these is broken down into ‘tertiary’ drivers. At each level, the driver diagram ends with actions.

This driver diagram therefore shows a complete strategy for decreasing fuel costs. At a glance you can see what its creator decided were important factors and the actions that are planned.

Where possible, the drivers in a driver diagram should be made measurable. That way a driver diagram can become a measurement framework for tracking progress towards a goal.

When does it work best?

Driver diagrams can fulfil a range of functions. They can:

  • help a team to explore the factors that they believe need to be addressed in order to achieve a specific overall goal
  • show how the factors are connected
  • act as a communication tool for explaining a change strategy
  • provide the basis for a measurement framework

Driver diagrams are therefore best used when an improvement team needs to come together to determine the range of actions they have to undertake to achieve a goal. They are especially suited to complex goals like ‘reducing teenage pregnancy’ where it is important for a team to explore many factors and undertake multiple reinforcing actions.

How to use it

The diagram below shows the typical way in which a driver diagram is constructed by a group.

Driver diagram example 2

This process essentially represents a mixture of brainstorming improvement areas and then clustering them to create the drivers. It can be hard work for a team to create a driver diagram as implicit in the process are assumptions about the changes required to achieve a goal and the relative priority of these. However, sticking with this discussion and debate leads to better shared understanding of the task facing the group.

It is also important to remember that no driver diagram is objectively ‘right’. They always represent a group (or individual) mental model of a situation – which might not be shared by others. The driver diagram is however a tool for communicating this mental model. 

What next?

Driver diagrams fit into an improvement process. Before starting a driver diagram it is important to be clear about your goal (e.g. to ‘reduce teenage pregnancy’ rates or ‘decrease fuel costs’). These goals are also termed ‘aim statements’.

Once you have a completed driver diagram (including identifying your projects) you are ready to begin project implementation. Driver diagrams therefore naturally lead into activities such as developing project plans and undertaking PDSA cycles.

Where drivers are defined measurably and the driver diagram is used as a measurement framework for monitoring progress, time-series techniques such as statistical process control (SPC) can be applied.

Additional resources:

The role of driver diagrams in an improvement effort is described more fully in Section 5 of the interactive on-line guide An Improvement Framework for Commissioners.

The specific detailed information on driver diagrams contained in this guide has been extracted into a pdf file that you can download here:  Extracts from An Improvement Framework for Commissioners.pdf Extracts from An Improvement Framework for Commissioners.

A quick overview of driver diagrams, together with some further examples is provided here:  Driver Diagram further information Driver Diagram further information