Three Minute Thesis

Yesterday I placed third in the Three Minute Thesis public speaking competition at OCAD University.  I just started my Master’s Research Project in January, so it was an accomplishment to be able to explain it as follows:

Our society has some wicked problems, such as intimate partner violence.  If we could visualize the whole system of interacting factors, I believe we could make better decisions about how to intervene in this complex system.

When a social service agency offers a program, they write a lot of text to justify it to their funders. They might use a “Theory of Change” to step through the chain of cause and effect, from one intervention, through outcomes leading to a societal goal.

ABoltwood 3MT slide

I am proposing this Causation Model, to show the whole system.  This simplified example includes the Theory of Change:  counselling helps survivors gain coping skills to create a safety plan to leave their violent home.  The dashed arrow shows that this would reduce how many people live with violence, and thus reduce trauma, injury and death.

By adapting the Causal Loop Diagramming technique, I can also show multiple interventions, in yellow, and show root causes, interactions and side-effects.  I propose using thicker arrows to indicate a stronger causal effect, so we can see which interventions might be more effective.  According to this fictional example, the legal system is not as helpful as counselling & shelter services.  The model suggests doing more violence prevention, and intervening in the root causes.

I am now engaging some agencies to co-create Causation Models.  We will experiment with the modelling format and process, such as by involving the agency’s clients, and updating the model dynamically.  I’ll create a guide to making Causation Models, so that organizations large & small can use the power of visualization to make a bigger impact on society’s wicked problems.

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