In my last blog post, I explained the concept of causal landscapes, which has been developed by the US research psychologist Gary Klein. In this blog post, I am going to provide a causal landscape of the reasons for Brexit and to show the power of causal landscape diagrams to summarise complex multi-causal explanations.
Developing the causal landscape
I have taken the different causes from the Conclusion chapter of Tim Shipman’s excellent book All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class, which is almost universally accepted to be the best book on the Brexit campaign.
I have obviously had to edit, combine and compress his points. If he were doing this process himself, no doubt he would produce a diagram with different emphases.
I haven’t tried to create a definitive causal landscape of Brexit by drawing on other resources, although that would be a valuable thing for someone to do. The purpose instead is to illustrate the potential of causal landscapes.
The Brexit causal landscape
The Brexit causal landscape can be found here – www.francismiller.com/wp-content/uploads/brexit_causal_landscape_pt1.pdf.
I have categorised the causes into four main categories:
– the wider political and economic trends
– the strengths of the Leave campaigns
– the weaknesses of the Stronger In campaign
– the contributions of key figures, both positive and negative.
Clearly the explanations have had to be summarised so please go to the Conclusion and the other chapters of Tim Shipman’s book for more detail.
Understanding what might have changed the result
The second part of a causal landscape is to identify which of the most important causes were open to change and therefore could have affected the outcome.
I have drawn on Tim Shipman’s Spectator article The seven moments that lost the referendum for Remain for this.
Tim Shipman lists seven things that might have led to a Remain victory:
1. Cameron asking for and getting significant changes from Brussels
2. Having a ‘Yes/No’ rather than a ‘Leave/Remain’ referendum question
3. Dominic Cummings being sacked as the Campaign Director of Vote Leave
4. Michael Gove supporting the Remain rather than the Leave side
5. Vote Leave not winning designation as the official Out campaign
6. Stronger In having accurate polling data
7. Cameron making a campaign commitment on immigration.
I have added a red dot to the relevant category on the causal landscape – www.francismiller.com/wp-content/uploads/brexit_causal_landscape_pt2.pdf – to show the seven points.
Understanding these points is interesting in itself but is also critical for politicians and political strategists who will be fighting future referendums.
The power of causal landscapes
There are two main reasons why I think causal landscapes can be a very useful tool.
i) the visual nature of causal landscapes makes the causes of a complex event much easier to understand than when the same information is distributed within long pages of dense text.
ii) causal landscapes can improve the quality of thinking about the causes of an event. One of Gary Klein’s insights about the human brain is that humans like to plump for single explanations. This means that the aftermath of major events will often have many people giving their preferred interpretation.
The beauty of causal landscapes is that, once a number of causes have been added to the diagram, a discussion can then begin about the accuracy of the different explanations, which were the most critical causes and whether any have been left out.
This discussion is much easier and more fruitful when everyone is focusing on the same diagram rather than when people are bringing up lots of different points that aren’t collected in one place.