Before attempting to solve a problem, you must understand the real problem. You need to structure the problem.
Structuring involves understanding what you are trying to fix and why. Only then can you determine whether the problem is worth solving. You can also consider other problems to address instead, how likely you are to solve the problem, and your ability to have an impact. It may help to use problem-structuring tools, such as system and stakeholder mapping and modeling software.
This phase is a vital precursor to systems change. However, problem (re)structuring can be an exercise to check the status of initiatives that are more evolved. For instance, use structuring to see if you identified the wrong problem to solve in the first place or to determine if the identified problem morphed into something new.
If you don’t have enough information to structure your problem, start with the next phase (think) and return to structure later.
Structure Phase in Practice
The Fund for Our Economic Future in Northeast Ohio has done masterful work in structuring theproblem of transportation for low-income job seekers who lack easy access to job sites. They are sourcing local solutions through the Paradox Prize, which seeks to address the “no car, no job; no job, no car” issue faced by Cleveland-area residents.
Tools You Can Use in Structure Phase
Understand the Story Behind the Data
Understand contributing and restricting factors for any given data trend.