Root Cause Analysis

I used root cause analysis to understand the hidden dimensions of the challenge of biodiversity loss, and to recognise the relationships and inertia present in the system.

The approach I used in this case, is based on a mix of the 5 Why’s research method which originated in Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing process in the 1970s and Iceberg Analysis a common systems thinking exercise.

This is not a model so much as a sensemaking tool - the reality of all complex problems is less like a tree with roots, and more like an underground root network which is intertwined and changing.

For the interactive version, see the Root Cause Analysis section in the appendix.

Key Insights

1. Understanding Value

Whilst a wide variety of approaches have been used to attempt to value ‘nature’ - from assigning economic value, to creating videos of the voice of nature, and much in between - it remains a challenge which continues to drive so many of the upstream and downstream issues.

2. Human Population Growth, Economic Systems & Anthropocentrism are root causes

Commonly identified root causes of biodiversity loss are population growth and the economic systems which allow the externalisation of ‘costs’ to the natural environment (Wood et al, 2013 [57]).

Yet in my root cause analysis I also found that one of the mental models which is keeping the biodiversity loss as a stuck problem, is a pervasive anthropocentric worldview (human-as-most-important-species). This worldview is particularly prevalent in Western ideologies which have been responsible for colonising so much of the world and injecting this worldview into other cultures through modern day economic colonisation and a culture of materialism. It is juxtaposed with a largely ecocentric worldview which is still deeply ingrained in the culture of certain peoples in those nations, such as Indigenous Australians, Māori, First Nations Americans & Canadians.

This insight forced me to recognise that design practice (and other disciplines) that is rooted in anthropocentric thinking (such as HCD), needs to be addressed directly, to reshape methods and mindsets.

3. We know so little

One aspect that was highlighted in my analysis was just how little we actually know about the biodiversity of our planet.

In a podcast [58] with systems entrepreneur and founder of Project Drawdown, Paul Hawken, I was reminded that we know more about Mars, than we do about the biodiversity and ecology of a spoonful of Earth’s soil.

If we don’t understand what is here, let alone value it, how are we supposed to win a battle to save biodiversity from our own destructive force?

“Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books.”

John Dingell, US House of Representatives, 1955-2015.

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