Essentials of Nonprofit Strategy: Defining the problem
“Given one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.”
Your Goal The first step to designing an effective strategy for your organization is to develop a clear problem statement In this mini-lesson, you’ll learn how to define the right problem statement for your organization.
Take a moment to think about the problem your organization is trying to solve. How many possible solutions can you think of to solve this problem?
How to Avoid Making Assumptions
Assumptions are conclusions people jump to without facts. When creating a problem statement, nonprofit leaders might make assumptions about the issue they are tackling. For example, they might make assumptions about what is causing a disease or whether a particular treatment will cure it. Assumptions like this are sometimes hard to spot in a problem statement.
Listening to Your Beneficiaries One way to avoid making assumptions when creating your problem statement is to talk to and observe your beneficiaries. Ask your beneficiaries what they think the problem is, and observe how they’re being affected. This will prevent you from making assumptions about the problem you're trying to solve.
Scientific Evidence Another way to make sure your problem statement isn’t making assumptions is to rely on social science or scientific evidence about the issue you’re addressing.
Can you spot the assumption in the following problem statement? “By encouraging communities to eat more foods containing garlic, coronavirus-related deaths can be prevented.”
Consult Other Organizations Finally, seek information from organizations that are trying to solve the same problem as you. Such organizations might support your ideas or oppose them. In either case, having others challenge your ideas can help you spot assumptions you might be making.
Do you know of a reliable organization that is working on a problem similar to yours?
Avoid Jumping to Specific Solutions
Just as your problem statement may have hidden assumptions, it could also imply particular solutions. But it’s too early in the process to develop solutions. So, try to avoid or at least minimize implicit solutions in your statement of the problem. The problem statement should be sufficiently broad to leave open a range of solutions and not dismiss any plausible ones.
Let’s take a look at the following problem statement. What might be the implicit solution(s)? “We need to improve bicycle safety in our village by making bike riders to wear helmets.”
Only Addressing Surface Problems
Take a look at how asking questions can help uncover the root of a problem. Ali: We really want to provide jobs to mothers. Kwaku: Why? Ali: We want to make sure they have money. Kwaku: Okay, Why? Ali: To make sure they can be financially independent. Kwaku: Why? Ali: So they are empowered to pursue their own dreams without fear. Kwaku: So, your main goal is to empower mothers to pursue their dreams. Providing them with jobs is one way, but there might be many more for you to consider.
Using Human-Centered Design Being open to finding the root of a problem is one important tenet of the field of human-centered design (HCD). At the very core of HCD is the development of a deep understanding of your intended beneficiaries and designing and testing solutions that truly meet their needs. So, to find the root of any problem, talk to your beneficiaries and see what they think is the real problem.
When designing a problem statement for your organization remember to... Avoid making assumptions by researching the facts and talking to your beneficiaries and other organizations. Make sure your problem statement doesn’t suggest a single solution. Try to find the root cause of a problem.
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