How to make a Decision Tree

Plot out the questions and conclusions before building a Decision Tree.

Summary

Using the Decision Tree (Beta), a tool for building interactive flow charts, requires more upfront work than when creating most other content in the CMS. Once a Decision Tree is conceptualized, building it can be time-consuming, too.

The images and examples below are from the process our Digital Service team used to create the Choosing the correct content type Decision Tree.

Draw the Decision Tree outside of the CMS

The process to create a successful Decision Tree begins outside the CMS. Before building anything, users will need to have all of the questions and conclusions plotted out. This can be done using pen and paper, in a Word or Google doc, or with an online tool like Google Drawings.

Using a physical draft

A physical draft makes it easy to adopt changes when mapping the Tree, especially in the early stages when brainstorming questions and answers.

Using Google Drawings

Users can also choose a tool like Google Drawings to create a cleaner version that’s easy to share with collaborators, at the beginning of or later in the process. These are easy to edit, especially for drafting the exact text of each Decision Tree Branch and Conclusion.

Step 1: Start with the first question to ask people

Think of the major question people need to answer when using the Decision Tree. What question will easily split people into distinct groups? This will inform what Branches and Conclusions the Decision Tree will need.

Step 2: Determine the 2 possible answers to the main question

Every question on the Tree will need to split into 2 possible answers, each of which can lead to a Branch with another question or to a Conclusion.

Step 3: Repeat step one and two until the Decision Tree is complete

Continue to make questions and conclusions until the whole process with every potential Conclusion is explained or outlined. Once a complete map is drafted, it’s time to start working in the CMS.

Step 4: Create the Decision Tree Page

This is the first page and basis for the rest of the Tree--the ‘trunk.’ Please remember to read about the required information for the Decision Tree content type before you begin.

Three important things:

  1. Users should not add a Start button at this point. That will come later when the rest of the Tree is constructed.

  2. The Tree needs to be connected to a Service page to save it as a Draft, but this will not make the Tree appear on that Service, even when the Tree is published. A Tree must be added to a Service in the Tasks area in the same way as any other child page.

  3. The Decision Tree page will need to be published in order to create the rest of the Tree. It’s unlikely that this page will be found via search by anyone, as it’s new and not linked to anything else. However, if concerned about this, users can choose to hide it from search engines until ready for the content to go public.

To hide a page from search, go into edit mode and open the "Metatags" tab in the grey box on the right. Open the "Advanced" drop-down menu, uncheck the first 3 boxes, and check all the remaining ones. Don't forget to reverse this when it's time to make the page public!

Step 5: Create all of the Decision Tree Conclusion pages

Once the base Decision Tree is made, it’s easiest to work backwards on the rest of the Tree. Start by making all of your Decision Tree Conclusion pages.

Conclusions need to be published in order to save the Branches when creating them. Similar to the Decision Tree page, it is unlikely that these pages will be found by anyone using a search engine. If this is a concern, however, you can hide the pages from search engines using the steps outlined above.

Step 6: Create all of the Decision Tree Branch pages

Next, create the Decision Tree Branch pages. Again, it is easiest to work backwards. Start with the Branches that are furthest out that connect directly to the Conclusions, then work inward to the Branches until getting back to that first major question.

The reason for this is that the auto-complete fields need to be able to link to published Conclusions or Branches. So, if Branch A leads to Conclusion B and Branch C, then both B and C need to be published content in order for Branch A to connect to them.

Depending upon the complexity of an organization's offerings, just a few or as many as a dozen Branches and Conclusions might be required.

It will be helpful to check off which Conclusions and Branches have been completed, especially if collaborating on the content creation. For example, green X’s were placed on the completed boxes in Google Drawings when they were complete.

Example of a Decision Tree map

Add a description (optional)

On Branch pages, the Description field can be used to add more context to a complicated question. For example, on this question, the Description field was useful for explaining what might be associated with an organization without making the question itself extremely long.

Add Key Action buttons (Optional)

On Conclusions, it’s useful to use the Key Action field to create highlighted buttons that point to pages connected in some way with the Conclusion that has been reached. These could go to an Information Details page with more comprehensive information, a How-to page for the action the visitor needs to take next, a place to direct questions they may have, or any other appropriate page either on or off of Mass.gov. For example, the Key Actions on this Conclusion on the content type Tree both offer ways to get more information.

Step 7: Create the start button and do some test runs

Once all of the Tree's Branches and Conclusions have been created and connected, go back to the base Decision Tree page. Now is the time to add that start button and connect the first Branch. Make sure to do some test runs through the Tree with people who aren’t as familiar with the subject, and make adjustments where necessary.

Once the Tree is ready for the public, add it to a Service page and make sure it’s no longer hidden from search engines (if this option was chosen while creating it).