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Mastering the Practice of Defining Problems Well: Open Data Policy Lab Releases New Problem Definition Tool

The Open Data Policy Lab releases a new resource to help organizations frame and articulate the problems they face.

Posted on 6th of April 2023 by Andrew Zahuranec

What does it take to address a public problem leveraging data? The first step is defining what the problem is. 

This statement might seem obvious, but articulating a meaningful problem can be difficult. It requires a broad enough lens to acknowledge the disparate issues that may undergird a challenge, while prioritizing and focusing on what is feasible and relevant. 

At the Open Data Policy Lab, we’ve long understood this to be a challenge, which is why we are today releasing a new resource to help practitioners: How to Master the Practice of Defining Problems: Problem Definition Tool.

Derived from a model developed through practice by The GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young, this tool guides practitioners through different stages to ensure that the work they conduct is as actionable as possible. It offers guidance, brainstorming exercises, and supplementary resources to help readers with:

  • Problem Identification: Articulating the general problem they hope to address;
  • Clarification Cycle: Understanding the context, stakeholders, and process;
  • Mapping Phase: Charting out the different elements related to the problem;
  • Question Cycle: Defining what success might look like by restructuring the problem as a question;
  • Change Theory Cycle: Articulating what will happen as a result of a particular effort to address the problem and why that is the case. 

In addition to this guidance, the tool provides a series of fillable worksheets that practitioners can complete to guide themselves through these stages. They ask the reader to answer critical questions about what it is they are interested in, why this issue is important, and how their work will be productive.

We hope this can be an effective tool for those working around the world. If you use this tool to support your work or have any suggestions on how we might improve it, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected]

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