3 Complete a problem definition of your own

To support you in unpacking your own problem definition, Case Study 4, below, is an example from the DIY Toolkit Case Studies of the Problem Definition Tool in action. Here, Natalya and Zhanna, working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) used the tool on a project to advance gender equality in Armenia. (You can read the full case study about Natalya and Zhanna's project in the DIY Toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .)

Case Study 4: Bringing diverse stakeholders together to define a problem


We brought together over 50 project beneficiaries – diverse stakeholder representatives – for the first time: women in local government; regional authorities; village mayors; NGOs and journalists. We expected a big challenge with facilitating a multi-stakeholder group to work in collaboration on issues of local governance.

Problem identification

What are the key issues they [the stakeholders] face in today’s local governance?

Why and how we used the tool?

We used the Problem Definition Tool to give stakeholders a helpful framework to express and prioritise the problems that they experience.

The workshop was scheduled over 1.5 days (11.5 pure workshop hours in total).

We were careful to identify key stakeholders, as well as UNDP and its partners’ staff as facilitators. We knew that it would be effective to have people that know the issues more deeply and can be skilful in their response.

We ran the problem definition session for 1 hour, 15 minutes. We had divided the audience into five groups and on rotation asked them to identify existing problems in five thematic areas of the local democracy:

  • challenges in electoral processes at the local level for candidates
  • interaction between Village/City Mayor and Avagani (community council)
  • collaboration between local government and central/regional authorities
  • interaction and work of local government with constituency
  • partnership of local government with civil society, inter-community organisations and media.

To avoid duplication and find as many issues as possible, each group was asked to only add new issues when they were passed the list from the previous group. At the end of the exercise, we asked the group to vote for one priority issue in each field. This revealed five issues, and we asked people to join a conversation about the one they felt most motivated by. The most topical five were:

  • lack of ideological debate during local elections
  • limitations in Avagani: formation, capacity, proper understanding of role and functions
  • lack of constructive cooperation between local government, civil society and mass media: lack of formats, existing stereotypes
  • low engagement of residents in decision-making processes, apathy among people, insufficient efforts by local government
  • insufficient communication between Avagani with regional and central government over the community issues.

We used the Problem Definition Tool to go deeper into each issue as shown below.

What is the key issue?We asked the group to describe the issue clearly in 2-3 sentences.
Who is it a problem for?We asked them to focus on primary and secondary target groups that could be affected by a solution.
What social/cultural factors shape this problem, and What evidence do you have that this is worth the investment?These stages were extremely useful for the group to work through.
Can you think of this problem in a different way? Can you reframe it?With the final column we had some trouble explaining what was required to reframe issues. Instead we focused on looking at the issue from a wider angle.

Results of using the tool

The Problem Definition tool helped to analyse issues much smarter and more deeply. It helped diverse stakeholders find consensus on shared experiences.

(Adapted from: Harutyunyan and Harutyunyan, 2014)

Activity 3

Timing: Allow around 40 minutes for this activity

It’s likely that you’re working through this module because you have a problem that you want to think about in more detail. Use the Problem Definition Template to work through your problem. You should think of this as a first draft that will help you to structure a more participatory exercise including other stakeholders later.


The Case Studies should have given you a clear direction on completing a problem definition for yourself. It can be helpful to do this activity alone in order to work through your own thinking first, and perhaps identify who else needs to be included in the full exercise later. However, be aware of the risk in making assumptions that you take forward and share as fact!

2.5 Can you think of this problem in a different way? Can you reframe it?

4 Revise or reframe a problem to make it manageable and solvable