Causal Layered Analysis (CLA)

CLA (Causal Layered Analysis) is a technique in futures studies used to better understand, reconstruct, and develop alternative futures by exploring the various causal relationships of a phenomenon.
Causal Layered Analysis (CLA)

Causal Layered Analysis (CLA): Strategic Foresight through Causal Layered Analysis 

Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) is a critically reflective method in futures studies that aims to holistically analyse complex phenomena. Developed within the framework of poststructuralism by Sohail Inayatullah, CLA focuses less on predicting a specific future and more on examining causal rselationships and generating alternative futures. 

Applications of the CLA Method for Businesses: 

The CLA method offers diverse applications for businesses. It can be used to capture perspectives from various stakeholders or as part of an overarching foresight process, particularly for the analysis of specific themes or scenarios. By analysing causes, factors, and relationships, it assists companies in crafting strategic plans and making informed decisions. CLA enables a profound and multidimensional exploration of the future that goes beyond surface-level data, trends, and events. 

CLA Method in a Nutshell: 

  • Meaning and Application: Causal Layered Analysis is an analytical tool designed to understand complex social phenomena by distinguishing between different levels of reality: the surface, social structures, worldviews, and cultural assumptions. By penetrating these levels, deeper causes of problems can be identified and transformative solutions can be developed.
  • Conducting the Analysis: When conducting a Causal Layered Analysis, superficial events or phenomena are first identified before analyzing deeper social structures, worldviews, and cultural assumptions. Subsequently, the interactions between these levels are examined to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem or topic under consideration.
  • Strengths of the Method: The strengths of Causal Layered Analysis lie in its ability to investigate complex social phenomena through multi-layered analyses, making deep-seated causes and hidden dynamics visible. Additionally, it allows for a holistic approach, enabling analysts to develop transformative solutions that go beyond superficial problems.
  • Weaknesses and Challenges: One challenge of Causal Layered Analysis is that its multi-layered nature requires a complex and time-consuming analysis, which is often impractical when quick decisions are needed. Furthermore, the interpretation of the different levels can be subjective and therefore requires a high degree of reflexivity and sensitivity to cultural contexts.

Why Is Strategic Foresight Important for Businesses? 

Proactive strategic planning is essential for businesses to identify market changes, seize opportunities, and mitigate risks. Anticipating early allows companies to adjust their strategies to gain advantages and maintain innovation. Moreover, strategic foresight encourages critical reflection and awareness of the future in everyday business operations, facilitating the recognition of new opportunities and the definition of desirable futures. 

How Does Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) Assist Businesses in Foresight and Strategic Planning? 

CLA supports businesses in their future and strategy planning in several ways: 

  • It provides a comprehensive and multidimensional view of the future. By examining different layers, companies can identify and understand complex interconnections more effectively. 
  • CLA prompts critical reflection on implicit assumptions influencing a company’s strategies and decisions. Analysing cultural, social, and political dimensions unveils hidden assumptions and facilitates the development of alternative future scenarios. This offers new opportunities for adjusting strategies and finding innovative solutions. 
  • CLA also allows for a participatory approach by involving various stakeholders in the process. Integrating diverse perspectives leads to a holistic future outlook, fostering consensus within the organisation and enabling well-founded strategic decisions. 

The Four Layers of CLA Analysis: 

CLA enables analysis of a subject on four different levels, which are run through both up and down. Each level is associated with a different type of knowledge, enabling the examination of the topic from various angles. 

Litany/First Layer

The first layer of CLA analysis is the litany, representing the evident manifestation of the topic. It primarily presents the superficial and visible aspects reflected in recurring headlines. It deals with data, facts, quantitative trends, and developments that serve as the starting point for analysis. 

Systemic Causes/Second Layer

The second layer delves into systemic structures and invisible causes. These are typically analysed through one or more variables. A particular focus lies on the question of societal inequality and its impact on the subject at hand. Exploring this layer deepens the understanding of connections between systemic causes and the data, factors, and developments depicted in the litany. 

Worldview and Discourse/Third Layer

The third layer concerns the realm of prevailing discourse, shaping assumptions and values related to the subject. Deep-seated beliefs, preferences, and paradigms influencing the understanding and perception of the preceding layers are considered. Incorporating diverse worldviews and critical thinking leads to a broader comprehension of the hidden assumptions, thought patterns, and cultural preferences influencing the subject. 

Myths and Metaphors/Fourth Layer

The fourth layer involves a critical examination of the viewpoints and assumptions identified in the third layer. It scrutinises the underlying myths and metaphors representing an unconscious dimension of the issue. This layer requires inner transformation, enabling the development of new narratives and perspectives. Reflecting upon and challenging these myths results in new ways of thinking and acting, fostering transformative changes. 

Business Planning: How Can Companies Use CLA to Enhance Their Strategies and Decisions? 

CLA has diverse applications in business planning. The following are some examples of how CLA can add value to business planning: 

  • Present/Future Mapping: CLA is a valuable tool to assess the current situation and design potential future scenarios. By analysing causality on multiple levels, organisations gain insights into current challenges and opportunities, enabling them to proactively develop strategies for the future. 
  • Reflection on Assumptions and Paradigms: CLA encourages companies to critically question their own assumptions and paradigms. By analysing cultural, social, and political dimensions, companies learn to recognise hidden assumptions influencing their decisions and strategies. By challenging prevailing beliefs and perspectives, companies can question existing practices and seek alternative solutions to complex problems. 
  • Developing Desirable Futures: One of CLA’s main strengths is its support in envisioning alternative and desirable futures. By exploring the deeper layers of values and worldviews, organisations can develop visions and strategies aligned with their core principles, leading to desired outcomes. 
  • Involvement of Different Stakeholders: Incorporating various perspectives can contribute to a more comprehensive future image. For instance, CLA can be applied to stakeholders’ perceptions to clarify internal metaphors and strategies. Exploring and explaining narratives strengthens dialogue within the company and promotes acceptance of strategic decisions. Reconstructing cultural and social narratives enables the development of inclusive strategies that address gaps and inequalities, promoting a changed future that embraces diversity. 

Futures Research in Business Operations: Why Is It Important and What Methods Are Available to Companies? 

The significance of futures research in business operations lies in the ability of companies to proactively respond to changes and adjust their strategies accordingly. By enhancing their future readiness, companies can achieve long-term success and adapt to the demands of a changing market and society. 

CLA plays a valuable role in the toolkit of companies by offering a structured and multidimensional approach. Through the analysis of causes, factors, and relationships, the reflection on assumptions and paradigms, and the involvement of various stakeholders, CLA offers a broader perspective on the future, aiding companies in developing strategic plans and making decisions. 

    Practical Application of CLA and Challenges: 

    The practical application of CLA provides valuable insights into complex issues and future developments for companies and organisations. However, challenges can arise when applying CLA, which are discussed below. 

    Common Challenges and Solutions

    Applying Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) in business operations can encounter two main challenges: 

    • Confusion of Layers: The layers can be easily confused. Therefore, it is advisable to progress from the litany of the present to the causes, worldview, and metaphor within CLA. Similarly, when moving downwards, transition from the litany of the new or changed future through the layers. Horizontal shifts between layers should be avoided. 
    • Reflection on Implicit Assumptions and Paradigms: CLA can be challenging for those who believe they know the whole truth. It is essential to realise that everyone holds different perspectives and worldviews, and these differences are crucial. Reflecting on and evaluating assumptions and paradigms requires openness and a willingness to question established thought patterns. 

    Conclusion: Benefits of CLA for Strategic Foresight: 

    CLA offers companies a structured and multidimensional approach to engage with complex issues, scenarios, and strategies within their strategic foresight. Through the analysis across four layers, CLA uncovers deeper levels of meaning and enables an in-depth exploration of the future. By examining the future from different layers, companies can develop more comprehensive solutions and adjust their strategies accordingly. CLA primarily fosters openness to alternative viewpoints, critical reflection on assumptions, and the recognition of hidden patterns. 

    Frequently asked questions and answers  

    CLA (Causal Layered Analysis) is an approach in futures studies to better understand the different levels of meaning in the present and future. CLA can be used as a standalone method to comprehend various perspectives on a specific subject or as part of a broader future planning process involving exploration of questions and scenarios. 

    Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) allows for the analysis of a subject on four different layers: litany, systemic causes, worldview/discourse, and myths/metaphors. 

    The litany refers to the recognition of observable data, facts, and trends, representing the superficial and visible aspects of the subject. 
    The second layer, systemic causes, addresses the underlying institutions and norms influencing the phenomenon. It deepens the understanding of often invisible roots of the factors and developments identified on the first layer. 
    The third layer, worldview, focuses on prevailing discourses and established beliefs playing a role. 
    The fourth and deepest layer examines the myths and metaphors underlying the worldviews. 

    CLA supports strategic planning in companies in multiple ways: 

    1. CLA enables comprehensive and multidimensional future exploration by allowing different perspectives and assisting in understanding complex connections. 

    2. Through critical reflection on assumptions and implicit notions influencing a company’s decision-making and strategies, CLA promotes a more conscious approach to the future. Uncovering and questioning hidden assumptions enables companies to develop alternative futures and discover new possibilities. 

    3. Another feature of CLA is its participatory approach involving various stakeholders. The method serves as a basis for discussion, incorporating diverse perspectives to develop holistic future images. This facilitates strategic decisions on a solid foundation. 


    • Inayatulla, Sohail. (2004). Causal Layered Analysis: Theory, historical context, and case studies. Tamkang University Press
    • Riedy, Chris. (2007). An Integral extension of causal layered analysis. Integral Futures.