# What is the Difference Between Root Cause and Contributing Factor

The main difference between root cause and contributing factor is that eliminating the root cause would eliminate the effect of a problem and prevent it from recurring but eliminating a contributing factor would not eliminate the effect altogether.

Root cause analysis or RCA is a technique or process to identify and verify the real cause of a problem in order to prevent it from recurring. Root cause and contributing are two important terminologies in this process. A root cause is the fundamental cause of an event, while a contributing factor is one of the causes of an event.

### Key Areas Covered

1. What is a Root Cause
– Definition, Features
2. What is a Contributing Factor
– Definition, Features
3. Difference Between Root Cause and Contributing Factor
– Comparison of Key Differences

### Key Terms

Contributing Factor, Root Cause, Root Cause Analysis

## What is a Root Cause

A root cause is the main reason for the occurrence of a problem. If we correct this cause, this problem won’t occur again. In other words, if correcting the cause of a problem prevents its recurrence, then we can identify this cause as the root cause. A root cause is the primary driver of a process. We often look for the root cause of a problem in order to make sure that this problem won’t recur in the future.

Analysts use root cause analysis (RCA) to identify and verify the real cause(s) of a problem. Therefore, we can define root cause analysis as an in-depth and structured process to identify the most basic factors causing a problem. This technique is mainly used in science and engineering, including fields like aviation, IT operations, and medicine. Furthermore, we can describe root cause analysis using four steps:

1. Identifying and describing the problem clearly
2. Establishing a timeline from the normal situation until the problem occurs
3. Differentiating between the root cause and other causal factors
4. Finally, establishing a causal graph between the root cause and the problem

## What is a Contributing Factor

A contributing factor is a condition or circumstance that influences the likelihood of an incident. Contributing factors can affect the severity of consequences or increase the effect in time but eliminating contributing factors won’t eliminate the effect. Moreover, a contributing factor may not have caused the incident, but when several contributing factors occur simultaneously, the probability of the of the incident also increases.

For example, imagine an accident involving a collision between a train and car at a railroad intersection. Some contributing factors may involve no signal lights at the railway crossing, an inexperienced driver, intersecting traffic, etc. Individually, they may not have caused an accident,  but together they all contribute to the accident. Similarly, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while texting, ignorance of traffic rules, and carelessness can be contributing factors for motor accidents.

## Difference Between Root Cause and Contributing Factor

### Definition

A root cause is the main reason for the occurrence of a problem while a contributing factor is a condition or circumstance that influences the likelihood of an incident.

### Nature

A root cause is the main cause of an event while a contributing factor is one of the causes of an event.

### Eliminating the Effects

Eliminating the root cause would eliminate the effect of a problem and prevent it from recurring but eliminating a contributing factor would not eliminate the effect altogether.

### Conclusion

The main difference between root cause and contributing factor is that eliminating the root cause would eliminate the effect of a problem and prevent it from recurring but eliminating a contributing factor would not eliminate the effect altogether.

##### Reference:

1. “Root Cause Analysis” Wikipedia.
2. “Cause vs. Contributing Factor” Reality Web.

##### Image Courtesy:

1. “The roots of ‘fake news’” By UNESCO – World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report 2017/2018 (CC BY-SA 3.0 igo) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Contributing Factors” By Transportation Safety Board (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr