Environmental Monitoring

Environmental Monitoring

What is a problem frame?

"Everyone must simplify the world." (Russo &Schoemaker 1989). Faced with a problem, it's practically always impossible to consider all information and perspectives that could lead to an optimal solution. "Even if we could predict the future of all factors that influence a choice, there would still be far too much information to effectively consider as part of a problem solving process. " Even the most complex problem can be simplified in a way that allows a viable solution to be found, even if it's not an optimal one. A problem frame is defined as the mental structure the problem solver uses to simplify the real world in seeking to find a solution to a problem . By definition, then, a frame is dependent on the perspective of the problem solver". Framing is part of the broader issue of management decision making.

Why should we care about problem frames? Well, by definition, a problem frame provides only a partial perspective of the world, a simplified view that can leave out important information. And often people simplify problems in ways that force them to choose the wrong (i.e., suboptimal) solution. Russo and Schoemaker describe this problem as "frame blindness". Setting out to solve the wrong problem because you've carelessly created a mental framework for your problem that causes you to overlook the best options according to your real objectives. "Systematic approaches allow us to question our initial problem frame (i.e., the frame we were given by the person presenting problem) and look for other ways of stating the problem that might yield better solutions".

The "problem-framing" approach "is about what makes for good problem solving. It emphasises focusing on the problem definition and on consciously examining different interpretations of that problem".

A problem solving effort involves several stages:

  1. building an understanding of the problem;
  2. defining the problem space;
  3. establishing some initial criteria for the goal;
  4. searching for solutions;
  5. deciding among solutions;
  6. evaluating progress;
  7. comparing initial goals to, and monitoring, the solution.

"The last four steps often dominate the focus of problem solving efforts, but the problem definition - how one sees the problem - has the most profound effects on where one ends up...

"The problem definition ramifies throughout the problem solving process, reflecting values and assumptions, determining strategies, and profoundly impacting upon the quality of solutions:

  1. The problem definition implicitly embodies preconceptions and assumptions that underpin how one approaches the problem;
  2. The problem definition guides the strategies and actions taken to address the problem;
  3. Exploration of aspects of the problem influences the quality of solutions."

A critical component of framing a problem for monitoring is that of scale. The visual tools such as conceptual models can help is identifying the relevant scales and the implications for designs.

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