Example: Cause and Effect Analysis on Homelessness and the Criminal Justice System

In the North American law enforcement community, homelessness is often a major source of problems. Homeless people tend to be dramatically overrepresented both as victims and as perpetrators of crime. Issues of homelessness are often underscored by health, financial, and environmental conditions that make finding effective solutions a major challenge. Applying a simplistic five whys approach would likely lead to major risk factors being ignored or overlooked, which in turn could lead to the development of ineffective or inefficient solutions.

In applying the cause and effect analysis approach to this problem, some police agencies have been able to not only define their own role in addressing homelessness, but also better link in with the social and health agencies that have an important role to play in the solution.

Let's consider how a police agency might deal with this problem using the cause and effect approach.

Step 1: Define the Problem

By brainstorming, we might settle on this problem definition, which is presented from the perspective of the police agency: "Homeless individuals are overrepresented as both victims and perpetrators within the criminal justice system."

Step 2: Identify the Major Causes

In considering these issues, we may choose to use the following major headings:

• People – What role do homeless people themselves, and the employees of social and justice agencies, have in the overrepresentation of homeless people in the criminal justice system?

• Process – What processes used by police and justice and social agencies impact (both positively and negatively) the overrepresentation of homeless people in the criminal justice system?

• Measurement – What data do we have available (or is missing) that could help tell us why homeless people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system?

• Materials – What physical resources are available (or are missing) to help address the overrepresentation of homeless people in the criminal justice system?

• Finance – What and how are financial resources used (or could be used) to address the issue of homelessness as it impacts the criminal justice system?

Step 3: Identify the Subcauses of Risk

By brainstorming, followed by the use of a struchired five whys approach, we could come up with a diagram that looked a little like Exhibit 21.1.

Cause and Effect Diagram

Exhibit 21.1 Cause and Effect Diagram

While this diagram represents a very light touch on the very important issues that impact homelessness, it could be significantly expanded by considering each major source in turn. It is also important to note that some root causes may be driven by two or more factors. In Exhibit 21.3, for example, the way that crime is reported is seen to be intimately tied to how police agencies are funded. Therefore, by changing the method of data collection (perhaps to include prevention metrics), it may be possible to develop a funding model that better reflects the full range of police responsibilities. Understanding not only the risks but also these interconnections is necessary to come up with a truly effective solution.

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