See related essay,
Solving School Problems
This question can be answered in two distinct modes: analysis, or advocacy.
The analyst answers it in this manner: A problem is either
a. a situation which concerns someone, orFor the analyst, every problem is someone's problem; otherwise it is a slogan of concern which it might be socially desirable to give lip service to but is not likely to be solved.
b. a situation which would concern someone if they knew about it.
The advocate answers the question in this manner:
a problem is a situation which should concern somebody.Be careful to distinguish which role you are playing when you discuss "problems." Just because a situation concerns someone does not mean you should be concerned also.
The Basic Questions
Q1. What is the situation?How to use the Basic Questions. Each question is followed by indications as to what it is getting at.
Q2. Whom does it concern?
Q3. How do they perceive it?
Q4. Why does it concern them?
Q5. What changes, if any, do they propose?
Q6. Can and will anything be done?
Q7. Who gains and who loses from the change?
Q1. What is the situation? Describe the situation in practical terms, that is, in a way that does not depend solely upon the person complaining about it to determine whether your efforts have made a change. Avoid or replace slogans. Reduce or replace judgmental language.
Q2. Whom does it concern? Identify the "stakeholders," i.e. those who benefit or suffer from the situation. Take care to distinguish between who is in fact concerned and who ought be concerned (as proposed by an advocate.)
Q3. How do they perceive it? Can they agree on what it is they are complaining about? Do they agree on why they have a complaint? Will they acknowledge common authorities in cases of uncertainty?
Q4. Why does it concern them? Uncover the underlying interests. Are they intrinsic or extrinsic values? To uncover underlying interests, persist in asking "So what?" of stated interests. The final answer is an intrinsic interest. All the preceding ones are extrinsic.
Q5. What changes, if any, do they propose? Examine their positions. Is the change proposal sloganeering? Or is it technically usable? (Use the "Can-it-fail?" rule.)
Q6. Can and will anything be done? Identify the powerholders. Are they stakeholders? Are the powerholders willing to change or is conflict preferred? Are they able to change?
Q7. Who gains and who loses from the change? Specify costs and benefits of the change proposal and who enjoys or suffers what.