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Why not solved

Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

The Contributing factors sub section is organized into a tree of contributing factors where each item further down in the tree contribute to the one above it. Your task is to find all the contributing factors that makes this problem so hard to solve.

The three common causes of why problems are not being solved

Use these as a starting point to find out why the problem is not already solved.

Change resistance

Change resistance is the tendency for a system to resist change.

  • Has there been resistance towards change in previous attempts to solve the problem?
  • Has the system defied changes when solutions were tried implemented?
  • What are restraining movement towards solving the problem? (What are the hindering forces?)

Start with the symptoms or the obvious and work your way down into the contributing causes. How do we know that there is resistance to change?

Lacking capabilities

What are the weak or lacking capabilities that is holding back the people and keeping them from solving the problem.

What is it that the people in the problem situation are lacking in order to solve the problem by themselves?

To deal with problems one must hold an adequate level or knowledge, resources and time.

  • Do the affected people lack skills, competencies and abilities to evolve and become able to solve the problem?
  • Is there a lack of understanding of the obstacles that inhibit development?
  • Is there a lack of technology, procedures, systems, policies, culture?
  • Is there a lack of basic human needs?
  • Is there a lack of capacity to engage with stakeholders and create consensus?
  • Is there a lack of cooperation or collaboration between sectors, groups, communities, branches etc?
  • Are the affected people not able to solve this problem by themselves?
  • Is there a lack of capacity to develop a strategy, a plan and get it implemented?
  • Are the affected people not able to learn and improve their own situation?
  • Is there a lack of basic economic structures to develop the society?
  • Do the society have the systems in place to develop their own capacity to deal with the problem?

Solution model drift

Big social problems usually have plenty of programs, projects and initiatives aimed at solving the problem. These initiatives often seem to be working at first but somehow degrades. We might say the solution "drifts" away from what’s needed to have it solved.

Solution Model Drift occurs when a solution model works at first and then doesn't. The solution has drifted, due to change in the problem, change in how the solution is managed, or both.

A solution can be seen as a model or understanding about how a system should work when the solution is implemented. If the model is correct the solution works. If not it usually fails.

Change in the problem or change in how the solution is implemented is inevitable.

Try to describe the causes of why there is a mismatch between the solutions and the problem.

  • What are the symptoms of Solution Model Drift?
  • Are we not able to evolve the solutions to keep up with the changing problem?
  • Are we not able to track indicators?
  • Do politics and power struggles result in compromises and poor implementations?
  • Are the programs and organizations not agile and flexible enough to deal with changes?
  • Are we not able to really understand the complexity of the problem?
  • Are the solutions changing and no longer effective?

Once you have added a top node (behaviour), add child nodes:

  • Use the 5 whys to find deeper causes.
  • Continue to add child nodes until you can no longer think of more contributing causes.

Find these contributing factors and prove the causal relations. Is there actually a causal relation or is it just correlation? Is the direction of the causality correct? Uncover direct and indirect causes. In the case of indirect causes find the intermediate causes.

Acknowledge that a single effect can be the result of multiple causes and that a single cause can have multiple effects.

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

The contributing factors here are intended to answer the question of why the problem continue to persist. Why is it that no one has been able to solve it effectivily?

To solve a problem it is not enough to understand why it evolved. We must also understand the forces that will impede solutions.

In this section you will be able to add a hierarchy of contributing factors. The further down you go the closer you get to the root cause.

Keep in mind that this sub section will only display the contributing factors in a hierarchal tree. Real world contributing factors are circular and networked so this representation is not complete. It does however provide a good way to systematically work through the contributing factors. In the next few sub sections you will be able to draw relations between these factors in a causal loop diagram.

Suggested reading

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Why has no one been able to solve the problem?

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  1. Root items should be observable behaviors.
  2. Beneath the root item add an item for EACH contributing factor that may explain the cause above it.
  3. Add deeper child items until you feel the causal factors are sufficiently covered.
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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

  • Get to the bottom of the contributing factors.
  • What are causing the imbalance or lack of harmony?
  • Consider using the 5 whys.

How to tell if you found the root cause

This may be used as a checklist
  • It is clearly a major cause of the problem symptoms.
  • It has no productive deeper cause. The word “productive” allows you to stop asking why at some appropriate point in root cause analysis.
  • It can be resolved. Sometimes it’s useful to include unchangeable root causes in your model for greater understanding. These have only the first two characteristics.
  • Its resolution will not create bigger problems. Side effects must be considered.
  • There is no better root cause. All alternatives have been considered.

Watch out for

  • Don't jump to conclusions. Finding the real root causes is difficult and will require some research.

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

A root cause is the deepest cause in a causal chain that can be resolved. If the deepest cause in a causal chain cannot be resolved, it's not a real problem. It's the way things are.

A root cause is that portion of a system that, at the fundamental level, explains why the system’s natural behavior produces the problem symptoms rather than some other behavior.

All real problems arise from their root causes. This leads to the fundamental principle:

The only way to solve a difficult problem is to resolve its root causes.
- thwink.org

So how do you find the root causes? That's the hard part. It's the step that makes or breaks your entire problem solving effort. Get it right and the rest is relatively easy. Get it wrong, and no amount of hard work and cleverness will work.

To understand the fundamental system and its root causes we need to acknowledge the universal principle that all problems are the result of imbalance. Forces interact to form a dynamic system. Whenever there is an imbalance in this force you have a problem.

Proper coupling occurs when the behavior (force) of one system affects the behavior of other systems properly, using the appropriate balancing feedback loops, so the systems work together in harmony.

Systems have goals, that is to say, a system has a purpose. A system has inputs and outputs. Improper coupling is when the goals of two or more systems are at odds with each other.

Example of system imbalance and improper coupling

In the global sustainability problem, the goals of the large globalized for-profit corporations are not aligned with that of the human race. The goal of corporations is short term profits. The goal of the human race might said to be wellbeing for current and future generations. At the moment corporations are the dominant systems. Corporations are dominating political decision making to their own advantage, as shown by their strenuous opposition to solving the environmental sustainability problem. Learn more at thwink.org.

Suggested reading

What are the root causes of why no one has been able to solve the problem?

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What seem to be the core or underlying factor that seem to be the strongest influencing factor responsible for the problem?

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

If you are not familiar with Causal Loop Diagram's (CLD) consider other more in-depth resources such as by mindtools.com, Systems and us, Nathaniel Osgood, Daniel H. Kim

  1. Get pen and paper or use software such as Vensim, Visio, PowerPoint. (Insightmaker and MapSys are more advanced as they also have support for SD simulations).
  2. Start with the key indicator(s) of the problem. Draw this as a circle in the middle of a diagram.
  3. Add relevant variables (always nouns) as circles. (variables that the problem influences, or that are influenced by it)
  4. Add the contributing factors (Start with the contributing factors that have the highest probability of being real). These are also added as circles (nouns rather than verbs e.g. "Human population" rather than "Increasing human population"). Use positive variable names. E.g. "Growth" rather than "Decline".
  5. Connect the circles with arrows.
    • For each variable(circle) ask yourself: What other variables are affecting/contributing to this (inbound arrow) and what other variables are affected by this variable (outbound arrow)?
    • What are obvious arrows/loops?
    • What are the side-effect loops?
    • Add polarity (+ or -) to indicate if the affected variable increases (+) or decreases (-) through the causal relation.
    • Use two short lines crossing over arrows to indicate there is a time delay. (You may also indicate the expected delay with a number such as in months or years)
    • Don't miss the circular relations. There is often arrows pointing back to the variable you started with.
  6. Look for triggers (causes) that might have sparked self-reinforcing processes. (Tipping point phenomena)
  7. Verify each arrow. Do you have data to support this link? If not you should set off to prove/disprove the causal relation.
  8. Check if you should add intermediate causal relations. (Should you cut a line in two by adding a circle in between?)
  9. Go over the CLD many times to check for consistency.
  10. Get feedback on the CLD.
  11. Add your CLD by scanning your paper version or by uploading en image export from a diagramming tool.

Additional tips

  • Develop the model with communication in mind (it should be easy to read by others).
  • Keep the diagram as simple as possible. Model the problem, not the entire system of overlapping systems.

Example Causal Loop Diagram


Watch out for

  • Do not use a variable more than once in the same CLD.
  • For better clarity, avoid having arrows cross over other arrows.

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

A causal loop diagram (CLD) is a diagram that aids in visualizing how interrelated variables affect one another. The diagram consists of a set of nodes representing the variables connected together. The relationships between these variables, represented by arrows, can be labelled as positive or negative.

The CLD is important for understanding why the problem is happening.

Suggested reading

What are some good models that describe the dynamics of why no one has been able to solve the problem?

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Add diagrams that represents the problem.

If the diagrams gets to big you should break it up into smaller diagrams. E.g. you can divide the diagram by topic, phenomenon, geographic or historical scope. In this case it may be useful to provide one main diagram that summarizes the different sub diagrams.


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