2.1 What is the key issue you are trying to address and why is it important?

Photo of three sculpture blocks showing the front half of a face sticking out and then in recess in each block illustrating perspective
The same thing can appear differently from different perspectives

This is where you can begin to ‘open up’ the problem as you currently understand it. You can either work individually or in small groups – here we will refer to groups, as problem definition benefits from a multi-stakeholder input.

The groups should be drawn from stakeholders who are engaged in working with the problem, for example, partners and beneficiaries. To make the discussion manageable, introduce a small set of key criteria by which an issue can be unpacked and assessed. For example, ask the groups to summarise the key issue in no more than ten words, then identify five key concepts that underpin the problem and list five reasons why the problem is important. This will make the activity more focused. It will also give you a standardised way to compare several different responses.

Key point

The people who help to articulate the problem definition should be those who are engaged in and/or have an interest in resolving it.

Your groups will not be starting from nothing; there will be concepts used that might be more contested than you expect. For example, if your work involves working with disability, how do the groups understand this concept?

There can be many different understandings, but asking each group to provide working meanings of key concepts will ensure that everyone is aware of the contested issues. It might be possible to then agree a shared perspective, or to understand why the problem needs to be examined from each of the contested perspectives in turn by all stakeholders working together.

2 Steps in problem definition

2.2 Who is it a problem for?