Article / Policy Innovation
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Published: 22.06.2022

Policymakers often strive to solve it all. But how can we know that we have tackled root causes of problems? The Sense and Frame process is an approach to initiate policy design, it helps to contextualize problems and challenges, and implement strategic foresight. This helps us to frame our thinking process more systematically.

Let’s see the examples below to understand this problem-solving approach.

Say we want to understand “population decline,” the hasty conclusion that the phenomenon stems from low birth rates may not be such a precise answer. Government policies encouraging citizens to have more kids can be but a futile attempt at the symptoms, not the causes. So let’s try to tackle the issue using the Iceberg Model and Levels of Problem Difficulty Framework.

The topmost layer of the iceberg is identified as “events,” things that are happening in society all around us or the global trends including population decline, low birth rates, and ageing societies.

The second-from-the-top layer is identified as “patterns/trends.” This is to think about the problems that have been happening repeatedly that their patterns have manifested. For instance, the younger generations prefer to stay single, even if they get married, they still choose to stay childless in case they feel unprepared. The current trend is different from the older generations that treat having kids as a necessary social role.

The third-from-the-top layer is identified as a “structure” that could stem from various roots such as policies, social norms, and natural resources. There is no fixed answer to the faces and forms of a ‘structure.’ And there are dimensions such as social and economic conditions that define a structure and the problems that follow. This layer helps to identify overlapping problems which sometimes influence each other, think about the inflation that results in the younger generation not wanting to overburden themselves with kids, their desire to raise children in quality conditions or to not raise one at all. And not to mention the attitude about having children that has changed over time.

The last layer is identified as the “mental model.”  This can be either hypotheses, beliefs, norms, perceptions, or expectations that are deep-rooted in society and help fasten the structure. For instance, the definitions of ‘family’ that vary through time. The younger generations may not adhere to the nuclear family value. They may hold new beliefs that a family can be made up of two persons and a pet. This kind of belief can shake up to the tip of the iceberg, manifesting itself in great population decline.

Using a ‘Levels of Problem Difficulty Framework,’ we can categorize the problems into the following categories:

  • Simple: This is an easily-solved problem which impacts just a few people. For instance, if a ship is traveling too slowly, just unfolding the sail can speed it up.
  • Complicated: This is a difficult problem that can still be solved by using existing tools. For instance, the ship’s engine can be fixed by the same mechanic.
  • Complex: This is a multilayered problem involving a lot of people. This type of problem needs an always-flexible solution. For instance, too many ships are traveling all at once, causing traffic jams in the ocean. In this case, we need to organize the traffic and negotiate with all the ships, taking everyone’s interest into account.

Looking at the picture, it is as clear as day that a single problem comprises various factors. And a sustainable solution to problem-solving is to understand root causes of problems. Try applying these approaches to your work, and you may find yourself thinking about the problems like never before.

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