Solving Social Problems by Finding a Good Lever

This post and the dozen or so to follow deal with social betterment principles and their applications. I’ll combine some more discussion of those principles with some suggestions on using brainstorming, problem solving, and decision analysis along with each principle.This post offers thoughts on using brainstorming techniques to gain leverage in any social betterment situation.

The first step in brainstorming possible leverage points in a social betterment effort is simple – state your challenge. This challenge could be synonymous with your organization’s mission. Or, the challenge in question could be a specific problem facing the community. Don’t focus on problems to the exclusion of considering opportunities to improve society in some way.

Next, list factors that affect the challenge. Spend a few minutes listing everything that’s known to contribute or that could be a contributing factor. The factors listed here, or in step one, could overlap but this is not important: We aren’t trying to create a proper scientific model of the challenge.

Third, list factors that influence the factors listed in step two. A few minutes of brainstorming is also in order at this stage. There will always be something to list at this stage of the search for leverage.

Pick one of those factors to focus on. If possible, pick a factor with disproportionate impact on the problem in question. If you are focusing on an opportunity, rather than on a problem that needs to be solved, look for something that can offer the best results for the effort.

An example:

How can we combat crime in Southeast Washington DC? That is the challenge. Let’s take an additional (and optional) step here and further define the challenge. We’ll focus on juvenile crimes of all sorts. We could have easily chosen a class of crime, such as drug dealing or gun crimes as well.

What factors contribute to juvenile crime? A few minutes of thinking suggest several factors that contribute to juvenile crime:

1. Negative role models
2. Lack of positive role models
3. Boredom
4. Frustration
5. Lack of self-discipline
6. Broken families
7. Lack of opportunities

We could list the factors that contribute to each of those seven factors, giving each a few minutes of concentrated thought. For now, I’ll just focus on boredom. That seems like an interesting factor to examine.

What factors lead to boredom, then to juvenile crime? Several factors could contribute to boredom:

1. Lack of part-time jobs.
2. Lack of sports to participate in.
3. Lack of ideas about constructive things to do.
4. Lack of resources, to start sports teams or part-time businesses or community projects.

I’ll ignore the many personal variables that could keep kids from sports, business, part-time jobs, or community service projects. Not all relevant variables are ever going to be controlable. Not all people who could, in theory, be reached are going to be reached.

The third step in this process is to pick one of those factors in boredom and see if something can be done. Providing part-time jobs seems like the best source of leverage over juvenile crime. Work gives teenagers some spending money, keeps them occupied, and improves the business climate in Southeast DC by both reducing crime a bit and providing more workers.

While this example didn’t produce any revelatations about how to combat juvenile crime in Southeast DC, you can still see how the brainstorming process is supposed to work.

Next time: Problem analysis and leverage


~ by chetdavis on October 13, 2007.

One Response to “Solving Social Problems by Finding a Good Lever”

  1. […] story here Der Beitrag wurde am Saturday, den 13. October 2007 um 18:08 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde […]

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