Research Causes

For this step you will need:


What’s causing the problem here?

Social problems are hard to solve in part because they have complex and interacting causes. 

Here we’ll explore how to understand the causes of the problem through a combination of research and engaging people who are affected by the problem or who contribute to it.

Watch this video to learn why it’s essential to know the cause of your problem if you want to design a solution that works.

Determining Causes

Here are some important things to consider as you research the causes of your social problem.





Jordan's Example

Let’s check in with Jordan and see what she finds while exploring the causes of diabetes.

Lessons in Change

In this exploratory stage you’ll need to do a lot of research about your problem. Here are some tips to help guide you in gathering information.

  1. » Explore scale and size
    How widespread is the problem within your target population?
  2. » Investigate change
    Have there been major changes—recently or over time—that have affected the magnitude of the problem or its causes?
  3. » Get to know those affected by the problem
    What do they think about the problem and its causes?
  4. » Study behavior
    How do the behaviors of those affected and of other key actors contribute to the problem?

You want to establish good relationships with beneficiaries and other stakeholders from the beginning. Work to foster an open and honest dialogue, and give people time to build their trust in you. They can be important partners in designing the solution.

Understanding the Experience of Those Affected by the Problem

We just discussed how people can provide insights into the causes of their problems. But that’s just the start. They can also provide insights into:

If you were starting a traditional business, you would spend a lot of time doing market research to find out what goods or services your customers want, so that you could meet their needs as best you could.

The same holds true for a social enterprise. It’s essential to get input throughout the process from those who stand to benefit from your solution and may become the users of your products and services.

Let’s explore the importance of understanding the needs of your target population.




As you lay the groundwork for success, take time to develop a deep understanding of what’s causing the problem for those you want to serve. Start with existing online resources and then, if possible, deepen your understanding through field research by observing and interviewing those directly experiencing the issue.

As you undertake the research, consider: