Addressing Root Causes

Solutions Journalism Network

Many well-meaning social programs don’t quite get to the root of the problem—they only treat the symptoms of a social issue. The stories in this collection are about approaches to problems that go beyond "Band-Aid" solutions and attempt to address the root causes of social issues (an SJN Success Factor category). By digging deep and attacking the root causes of a problem, changemakers can treat the disease rather than just the symptoms. These solutions offer help to those in need, employ a comprehensive approach to problem-solving, and address the determinants that keep individuals and communities from succeeding.

How can we target problems such as crime, terrorism, drug addiction, obesity and poverty at their roots? Our Success Factor guide breaks down the idea into three categories: addressing underlying issues, providing help instead of punishment, and using a comprehensive approach. 

Addressing underlying issues means facing the structural and systemic causes of problems, digging them out when they might otherwise remain hidden. Chip Brownlee's article, for example, discusses a Texas violence intervention program that reduces street shootings, preventing the need for police involvement that would otherwise escalate the violence and harm. Cheryl Splain's article covers the support systems implemented for social workers who were facing high burnout rates due to the traumatic nature of their work; by investing time and energy in supporting these workers, agencies were able to better serve their at-risk populations.

J. Brian Charles’ article about an initiative working on reducing teen violence by helping mothers cope with trauma provides an example of a solution that provides help rather than punishing people who find themselves in problematic situations.

In other situations, the best way to address the underlying cause of a problem is by employing a comprehensive approach that helps people address multiple, related issues—read Emily Dech's article to learn about how SNAP-Ed educators are helping people get the most of out of supplemental nutrition programs. Attacking root causes is a particularly crucial step in public health concerns such as poverty and poor nutrition

Click here to search the Solutions Story Tracker database of solutions journalism stories on how people around the world are responding to social and environmental challenges

Student analysis and experience level: Introductory