The answer is simple: “It’s complicated.”

After mulling over several difficulties of determining root cause, I finally settled on one that makes sense to me.  The reason we find it so difficult to determine root cause is that the problems we look at are so complicated.  Simple, right?

Maybe this answer appears as a way to avoid providing a real answer to the question.  But honestly, since when has any difficult problem ever been attributed to one single cause?

The fact is, everyone experiences problems differently.  Even widespread societal problems are experienced on an individual level.  When enough people are dealing with the same problem, we call it a social issue.  However, we must remember that an issue becomes social only because many individuals are dealing with it.  And every individual is different.

So, while one person may not have enough food because the soil he plants on is of poor quality, his neighbor may not have enough food because he was never taught how to successfully grow crops in the first place.  Which brings up another problem with determining root cause: we do not have all the information.  We can sit in our classrooms and postulate about the “root cause” of all of the world’s problems, but what do we know about other peoples’ problems?  Our limited knowledge and understanding prevents us from determining the root cause of even our own personal problems.

If we ever hope to determine the root cause of any of the world’s problems, we must understand all of the information.  We must see the big picture, but we must do so without losing sight of the individuals who deal with the problems.  We must understand the cultures, lifestyles, and values of the people who are suffering.  Even more than that, I believe that we must experience life as they do.  Only in this way can we understand the interplay of the different aspects of their lives, ultimately recognizing all of the components of the problem.

Finally, once we have a comprehensive understanding of the problem and the context, we can work to identify the root cause.