Systems Thinking and Root Cause Analysis

Uncategorized Oct 28, 2020

Having the discipline and commitment to “get real” is particularly important for all of us with aspirations to “change the world.”  As change agents, our idealistic vision of how the world could be is frequently what excites us and pushes us forward.  Unfortunately, this sometimes leads us to shy away from dealing with the complex, imperfect, and messy world as it actually is.  

Without a deep understanding of what’s real—of how the complex systems we seek to improve actually function, particularly around dynamics of power, community, race and identity—we cannot be sure that our solutions are the right ones, or if they  are truly moving things in a positive direction.   This is why those who appoint themselves to the role of “change agent” must be cautious  of their own vision, especially if they do not participate closely in the system they seek to change.  In the worst case scenario, these "visionary" solutions may even produce more harm than good.   When we fail to get real as change agents we are failing ourselves and everyone else who's a part of the systems we seek to change. We must do everything we can to understand how these systems actually work—and what our own role is in them, in order to maximize our chances of making lasting positive change. 

This post provides a brief overview of three useful modes of thinking when it comes to "getting real:" systems thinking, critical thinking and design thinking--and then it offers a detailed walk through of one particularly useful tool from the systems thinking toolkit: root cause analysis.   Root cause analysis is a simple, straightforward technique that you can easily use on a practical basis with just a fraction of the time and effort required to master formal systems mapping.  The video goes through an example of this approach, and the associated downloads include an instruction sheet as well as an example chart that seeks to provide a clear and practical  process that can be applied both by individuals and by groups working together. 


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