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The Innovation Process
Module 1.3

Root Causes and Contributing Factors

Analyse and interpret the information you have collected

When the Starting Point Assessment is complete, you are now ready to analyse and interpret the information you have collected so that you can effectively evaluate your initial impressions, begin to determine causality and uncover contributing factors.

Interpretation requires critically examining the information that has been gathered. The purpose is to move from just seeing what is to establishing why that is. Taking the time to move through a diagnostics process will therefore help innovators to dig deeper and ensure they are fully and accurately investigating the scope, nature and consequences of the problem (and not just the symptoms of problem).

At the end of a diagnostic process, innovators should also be able to understand the size, complexity, scope, importance and urgency of the problem they are dealing with. How important is the problem to those who hold it? How complex is this situation? What are the humanitarian parameters regarding this problem? Is it urgent and/or important for anybody? If so, who?

The PlayPump is a merry-go-round which is connected to a water pump; as children play, water is pumped into a storage tank. However, early hype, including a significant pledge by the Clinton Global Initiative and trials by UNICEF, gave way to concerns about cost-effectiveness, the requirements of communities as a whole, and the potential conflation of play and work where water supplies are inadequate.

“There were various problems. First, the pump was very expensive … So there were real concerns about the cost of the pumps. And it was very clear to us that, whereas it may be an appropriate pump for a school, it is not appropriate as a community pump. It’s difficult for adults to operate, and so that meant it had severe limitations for us because we were looking for models to serve communities.”

Clarissa Brocklehurst, Chief of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, UNICEF
PBS (2009) Interview with Clarissa Brocklehurst.

Determining the root causes and contributing factors of a problem will ensure that any innovation you work on is focused on ‘real’ problems in a particular context. Too many innovation initiatives fail because they are addressing the wrong problem, often for the wrong people. By carrying out this process, we reduce the potential of falling into this trap.

Diagnosing root causes involves three inter-related steps that you will explore in the activities that follow:

  1. Examining and prioritising relevant information by reviewing your desk research, initial conversations (in interviews), and observations and then cluster them
  2. Digging into root causes and contributing factors using diagnosis tools
  3. Defining the parameters around the problem and determining whether it is urgent and/or important.

Note: We recommend that you go through each activity sequentially, but you do not have to complete all the exercises in each activity area. There are exercises and tools in this section that will be useful to you throughout your innovation journey, and we will point back to them in different parts of the Guide.


1.3 A Prioritise information and identify patterns
This activity will help you uncover key findings from the Starting Point Assessment, and to structure this knowledge into recognisable themes and patterns for subsequent analysis and interpretation.
1.3 B Diagnose root causes
This activity will help you get below the surface-level understanding of the problem to identify what is causing the problem, and what is contributing to the problem.
1.3 C Set the problem importance and parameters
This activity will help you set parameters around the 'problem space' so that you can maintain focus and understand what is urgent and what is important.