· Problem Definition
Kingdon and other scholars have argued that there exists a temptation to chase after solutions, rather than taking the time & effort to clearly define the problem(s) first. If you are familiar with the old adage of “putting the cart before the horse,” the horse is symbolic of a problem, and the cart would be the solution. The horse should pull the cart.
Sometimes the solution-chasing starts out with good intentions, but perhaps the consequences weren’t thoroughly considered. Here’s one example from my research: In the late 1960s state legislatures began to enact mandatory reporting laws on health care professionals in order to encourage the reporting of suspected child abuse. Over the next 20 years, these mandatory reporting laws expanded to include a host of professions, such as teachers, cops, and social workers. While there was an influx in the reporting of abuse, there were no additional resources provided to child protective agencies to handle these increased reports. Instead, we see social workers begin to “shirk” in their own reporting which has gone stagnant over the 20 years that followed. Social workers were no longer attempting to report suspected abuse, but just trying to play detective to the reports that they were receiving. In effect, they were doing the work they could with the limited resources available to them.
In this example, the solution was to encourage the reporting of suspected child abuse – great idea! The problem, though, was that the group in charge of receiving these reports didn’t have the resources available to them to do anything with these reports. They spent time trying to track down the reports they were receiving, neglecting their additional work, and ultimately, ignoring other reports as they quickly became overwhelmed.
Please share an example from your own experience or one that you’ve heard/read about, where a “solution” was enacted, but the problem was not well defined.