by Christa Foschio-Bebak

Driver diagrams are a simple but powerful tool for non-profit organizations that are implementing Quality Improvement (QI) projects. Used in the planning phase of QI projects, a driver diagram allows your team to better understand and visualize the relationship between your AIM statement and what it is you’re trying to improve.

Planning for Quality Improvement

The first step in a QI project is to develop a project AIM statement with your team. AIM statements succinctly describe what it is you are trying to achieve, by when and by how much. (See AIM for Quality Improvement for a better understanding of why they are necessary for QI projects and examples.)

Once you have developed an AIM statement, it’s time to better understand the problem you’re trying to fix or the outcome you’re trying to improve. This planning phase requires your team to fully understand the reason or root cause creating the problem. You can then identify changes and strategies to help you achieve intended results.

Driver Diagram Basics

One of the many tools available during the planning stage is a driver diagram. It advances your team’s belief and ideas of what “drives” the achievement of a project AIM and illustrates theories of cause and effect in your system. It does this by showing the relationship between the overall AIM of the project, the primary drivers that contribute directly to achieving the aim, the secondary drivers that are components of the primary drivers, as well as specific change ideas to test.

  • Primary drivers: Big ideas or topics that will help you to achieve your AIM
  • Secondary drivers: The things that influence the primary drivers. These need to be more specific and you will need to identify change ideas that relate to these drivers. Think of these as the processes or practices that are necessary in order for primary drivers to be carried out.
  • Change ideas: Small-scale, easy to implement and ideally measurable actions. They ensure your improvement project can move out of the planning stage and into action.

The illustration below represents what a driver diagram looks like as you begin to fill it in.

An example of a completed driver diagram is below: 

Using Driver Diagrams to Drive Success

The missions of non-profit organizations are rooted in helping others. QI programs ensure that their processes are efficient and resources are being used effectively, and driver diagrams can be a useful tool in your QI planning process. Creating a driver diagram with a team ensures that everyone understands your goal and how they can contribute towards achieving it. 

For more information or help with planning your QI project, contact our QI Director Christa Bebak at

Christa Foschio-Bebak, Director of Quality Improvement, leads, facilitates and manages projects that improve quality outcomes and increase direct staff participation in data-driven decision making—helping minimize organizational performance gaps that could hinder funding initiatives. She is adept at working with senior administration in measuring the specific mission of CCNY clients and using data management to implement QI programs that improve service delivery.