A Hierarchy for solutions & interventions

At The Workshop, we take an evidence-informed, hierarchical approach to exploring and understanding problems, and investigating and analysing solutions, policies and practices to overcome them. We work especially to highlight the critical role of structures and systems in improving people’s lives with the least individual effort required (though not the least political effort).

Identifying drivers of the problem

First we ask is the problem we have identified a structural or systems level problem (e.g, the structure of the economic model, the power of private markets over people’s wellbeing) or a group/individual level response to the issue (e.g. distrust in democracy that results from a lack of inclusion in democracy)? Sometimes defining where problems originate is complex as there are interactions and feedback loops, as with all complex issues.

For example, hate speech is an individual or group behaviour, it is fundamentally about how people or institutions treat others, however the upstream issues that encourage and enable hate speech, intolerance and bigotry must be explored. Wealth, gender and ethnic inequalities in society, for example, mean digital platforms are primarily owned, designed and managed by those with little experience of differential or harmful treatment based on their position in society.

Without knowledge of how power imbalances and differential treatment based on gender or race play out in society, or a commitment to overcoming them, people who control these platforms can design in policies and practices that encourage hate speech and trolling. By presenting problems in a hierarchy we endeavour to make the feedback loops and upstream structures and systems issues clearer to people.

Identifying where people should intervene for greatest impact

In terms of considering “what works”, we focus on ‘upstream’ or structural and systems responses and solutions to the problems. We take this approach because research from across disciplines focussed on enhancing population wellbeing and equity shows interventions at this level:

  1. have the most significant impact on most people’s lives and outcomes, and

  2. require the least effort from individuals to achieve change, and the least resources from those trying to implement change.

We place less emphasis on individual behavioural solutions, not because they are not effective, but because to be effective these solutions (e.g civics education, or consumers closing their Facebook accounts) take significant effort from both individuals and those encouraging such action, and may not address the structural drivers that cause the problems upstream. In addition, people expending energy on individual level solutions can divert energy from investing in understanding and acting on structural level solutions.

The possible interventions identified both in the literature review and by the interviewees are discussed in the context of a hierarchy from those likely to be most effective and requiring least individual effort, to those likely to have the least impact and requiring most individual effort on a population-wide scale. This hierarchy comprises interventions that:

  1. Change society-wide structural & systems issues to re-establish citizen power

  2. Create supportive environments & contexts - making the default digital space inclusive and safe

  3. Create long-lasting protections for people, and intervene to protect them from digital threats

  4. Build understanding of digital media threats and change individual behaviours in response.

Wellbeing impact pyramid DDv2.png