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It’s the little things that count

If the sound from your TV stops one day, you logical first step is to check a couple of other stations to see if the TV station is having a problem. When they are all showing silent pictures as well, you’ll probably turn the TV off, go to the computer and check prices of a replacement TV. Once you have sufficiently recovered your breath from the price of a new TV with all the bells, whistles and acronyms that are apparently essential in 2023, you’ll probably go and turn on your existing one again and voila – the sound works … for about half an hour or so. By this point most of us will have decided that the TV is past it’s use by date and reluctantly make time to visit the local electrical stores to get bamboozled by ‘must have’ pseudo-technical features you’ll probably never use. The alternative is to turn the TV on, watch it until the sound goes off, turn it off, then go back to it after a while when the sound goes back on.

Repetitively turning the TV on and off is treating the symptom, buying a new TV is addressing the root cause of the problem. Sadly, addressing the root cause in this case costs you more but is certainly less frustrating in the long run (and you can be confident you can see the unveiling of the criminal in Midsomer Murders while wondering who on earth would deliberately move to a small town where murder appeared to be a regular occurrence).

If you use your favourite search engine to give you references to ‘root cause analysis’, you’ll find page after page of results. The Wikipedia entry suggests:

RCA can be decomposed into four steps:

  • Identify and describe the problem clearly
  • Establish a timeline from the normal situation until the problem occurs
  • Distinguish between the root cause and other causal factors (e.g., using event correlation)
  • Establish a causal graph between the root cause and the problem.

RCA generally serves as input to a remediation process whereby corrective actions are taken to prevent the problem from recurring. The name of this process varies from one application domain to another. According to ISO/IEC 31010, RCA may include the techniques Five whys, Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), Fault tree analysis, Ishikawa diagram, and Pareto analysis.

A number of restrictions on members of the Alice Springs community have been re-introduced as a result of an apparent crime wave in the six months since alcohol and movement bans were removed. In reality it demonstrates that no one correctly thought through the reasons the bans were required in the first place – or correctly implemented real and genuine improvement in people’s lives in the fifteen years since the Howard Coalition Government mounted its ‘intervention’ operation. In other words, even though the claim is the bans worked they really treated the symptom rather than the root cause of the problem.

Various states, including Queensland, have announced a ‘get tough on crime’ approach in recent times and it’s true that those that commit the crimes need to be identified and convinced there is a ‘better way’. However, it’s unlikely that throwing them in jail is a successful solution. The ‘get tough on crime’ approach is red meat to those that want to see results now – and that’s it. It is treating the symptom rather than the root cause. Putting more people in jail seems to only increase the need for jail cells and corrections officers.

The root cause analysis would have to consider why do people commit crime. Anecdotal commentary seems to suggest that a lot of crime is due to people feeling socially excluded and possibly unemployed, making it hard to find the money to ‘make ends meet’. They are sent to the fringes of our society, both physically and mentally with conservatives inflicting systems such as ‘income management’ and making ridiculous statements about ‘lifters and leaners’ or ‘dole bludgers’ because ‘they can’t look after themselves’, further isolating the victims from society. Some understandably do purchase legal and illegal drugs to temporarily forget the real problem, a lot of people don’t. All these actions are society demonstrating again the failure to address the root cause of the problem.

Addressing the root cause doesn’t necessarily produce the instant result such as the TV news tonight showing people being taken away to ‘assist Police with their enquiries’. It does over time reduce the demand for jail cells and the associated infrastructure. A recent study on transport provision, reported in The Guardian demonstrates that reasonably cheap and easy to implement solutions can make a large difference to employment and social inclusion. The study supports running buses at higher frequencies in ‘underprivileged’ suburbs:

Transport planners have long considered the connection between mobility and social inclusion. They rely on a formula that calculates the monetary value to society of public transit trips based on an individual’s household income, employment status, social support, participation in community such as library or sports events and political activity.

The new research bolsters that formula by adding a measure for neighbourhoods – and how at-risk residents are of social exclusion – based on data including: the proportion of residents aged 15 or older without a university or school education or English skills; one-parent families; households without a car; and the number of people employed as labourers, machinery operators or service workers.

People who are socially excluded commonly have a higher risk of being unemployed, having poorer mental and physical health, being less socially connected and some will be more likely to engage in crime and substance abuse – which has consequential costs for the wider economy, the paper said.

The study suggests that in large metro areas, if the bus transports 8 people a hour it is worth the cost and the bus only needs to transport 6 people per hour in smaller regional communities for the same benefits.

Pity our conservative governments will look at the seemingly empty buses running around and claim it’s a waste of money. Apparently a ‘Police Task Force’ or a newer, bigger jail isn’t.


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  1. leefe

    Or you could just turn on the subtitles …

  2. Clakka

    What’s the point if they don’t get reception?

  3. GL

    Or you could be like me, years ago, and throw the glass teat (thank you Harlan Ellison) out in the rubbish because of the overwhelming amount of puerile mindless shit that passes for TV viewing. Never looked back.

  4. Canguro

    In the past twelve months, I’ve sat in front of the TV once, on election night last May, to enjoy watching the LNP get chucked out of power. Apart from that, like GL, I haven’t watched TV in years. It’s better for your mental health, I’m sure.

    Occasionally visit an old mate in Brisbane and get to be amused watching him do the flick, flick, flick thing, scrolling through endless channels and whingeing about there being nothing on. And when I suggest hooking up a laptop via HDMI so he can watch something interesting – a doco, a good movie – nah, too hard! I think he just likes to whinge.

  5. Fred

    2353NM: Hear hear! Unfortunately the challenge with RCA is that it requires thought – serious deep thought – to consider all causal factors and their relative impact, which is clearly beyond our regulators. They are more than capable of ignoring the elephant in the room and simply creating a meaningless media event for no reason, e.g. Lidia Thorpe leaves the Greens for obscurity on the cross bench.

    I wouldn’t claim to have an answer for the Alice Springs situation, but what drives the town’s existence? Of the 25 to 30K residents, what percentage are gainfully employed (percent full time/part time)? What are people doing in their spare time? What are the factors surrounding school attendance? What is driving the crime (drugs/boredom/family violence)? etc.

  6. paul walter

    Re Canguro,
    it has become a punishment with TV, The only time you can usually get something half tolerable is way after midnight, as with last night when they had the clever Van Der Valk cop show on.

  7. Canguro

    Of course there’s no actual proof that the Chinese CCTV cameras are reporting back to base. The Hikvision and Dahua equipment that was undoubted purchased on the back of government tenders and decisions made on the basis of cost efficiencies has not been shown, anywhere to date, to irrefutably contain any electronics that are, as it were, sending home to mama a report of the night out on the town. Neither here, nor in the UK, or the United States. Just good ol’ paranoia having another day out. It’s getting quite a run off the leash lately – AUKUS nuclear subs, Lockheed Martin HIMARS, B-52s at Tindal – gee whiz, never a better time to be a procurement official. Too bad if you’re one of the many thousands of Australians who can’t afford a roof over your head and find yourself sleeping in a car or tent and having to digest the fact that taxpayers’ dollars aren’t coming to assist you anytime soon.

    It’s yet another example of the reptilian hindbrain given prominence over the more rationally capable regions of our 1.3 kg of grey slodge that passes for the best that nature can come up in terms of processing information in an intelligent manner. Call it the Goebbels syndrome. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until a fearful fantasy becomes accepted as fact. Never let it be said that paranoia and ill-founded suspicion are confined to the unwashed and uneducated. So, the red-faced huffers & puffers that masquerade as intelligent bureaucrats and their political masters will unnecessarily spend taxpayers’ dollars to rip all this infrastructure out and have a ritualistic burning in the backyard, chanting ‘Amerika Good, England Good, Australia Good, China Bad’, while dancing around the 44 gallon bins and tossing another camera on the fires.

    It’s awfully laughable, really. Countries around the world rushed to outsource manufacturing to China; businesses in their thousands saw an opportunity to cut costs with cheap labour, China was lauded as the greatest gift to the capitalist ethos, profits soared and all was well in the kingdom of mammon, until it wasn’t, until the USA successfully initiated a propagandist meme that China was actually an existential threat to humankind, clouds darkened, brows knitted, doomsayers were elevated to the higher platforms of Orwellian-speak, and thus, here we are, poor dumb creatures, suckered yet again, when in a more intelligent prosecution of process we could have been succoured, instead.

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