Train theory

A tool for ensuring impact is embedded in your solution

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You're standing on a train platform in a foreign city. Amidst the hustle and bustle, you're trying to figure out how to get to where you need to go, all the way on the other side of the city. You know you can get there by train - you're just not sure how.

Unfortunately, the transit authority has just yesterday decided to replace the metro maps in the train station and, due to a freak printing accident, haven't replaced them yet.

You could, with a pinch of courage, just hop on the next train heading in the direction of your destination and hope for the best. You might even get there. But, what if the train terminates at the next station? Or, what if it switches direction? What if you needed to transfer at another juncture?

If you're needing to get somewhere in a hyper-connected complex system, and you lack any form of map, any action you take to get there is based on luck.

The same goes for designing solutions for impact. Similar to trying to understand a metro connection, you may know where you currently are and where you want to end up - but unless you map out the stages in between, you have little chance of actually getting there efficiently, if at all.

Train Theory is a spurian tool to map out these connectors, to build a metro map of impact from one point to another.

As above, one of the key problems in impact solution design is the steps in between. Most projects have a solid starting point and with enough work, have a clear destination. But for many, mapping out the steps inbetween is the hard part.

The example below relates to our very first project, Soften The Fck Up, a campaign around youth mental health and suicide. In this case, we knew where we were starting (what we were planning to do) and where we wanted to end up (suicide reduction) but the steps in between were fuzzy.

As a result, while Soften The Fck Up was popular, we cannot be sure it achieved tangible results towards our goal. Did it raise awareness? Almost certainly. Did it help reframe the public narrative around mental health? Probably yes. Did this result in action to reduce suicides? We don't know.

A better example is our project How is the World Feeling?, where we began to properly understand this impact linkage.

In this case, we had a solid line of connections that mapped out how we would get to our result from our starting point. This ensured we didn't hit a dead end, or missed our target completely.

It is also important to understand that the issue you're tackling is affected by multiple actors. It is likely that you're not he only one influencing this issue - many train lines lead to the same destination, after all. Working with these other actors and understanding their influence benefits your own work.