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Key skills: making a difference
Key skills: making a difference

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8.3.3 Explore problems

Recognising and framing problems so that you can tackle them effectively is a central part of a problem-solving strategy. Often, problems are not presented in a well-defined way, and it is up to you to define exactly why a problem exists and what its boundaries are.

Recognising a problem means identifying that there is a gap between the present situation and what is desirable, and establishing that no immediate solution is at hand. This exploratory stage is about finding out more about the nature of the problem, so that informed judgements can be made about whether a solution is possible and achievable. Approaches include:

  • Reframing the problem. What is it that makes the problem a problem? Try to see the problem from different points of view to get a feel for what affects it and, in turn, what is affected by it. What is the scope of the problem? How relevant is it to different groups of people? How does it, or its proposed solution, impinge on others’ interests and concerns?

  • Simplifying the problem. How might the problem be divided into smaller sub-problems which can be tackled separately and contribute to an overall solution? What are the important and unimportant features of the problem? Since you cannot take everything into account in every situation, what features do you need to emphasise to help you clarify and simplify the problem and which do you need to ignore?

  • Making comparisons. Have you come across any similar problems that could offer useful ideas, methods or techniques? What other experiences can you bring to bear on the problem; what similar situations have you come across that might help you think about or re-state the problem? What specialist knowledge do you have that you can draw on?

Time out

Note the important features of your problem and say why they are important. What is the scope of the problem? Comment on or sketch out the main components and their interactions with each other, for example, using a spray diagram.