Home > Uncategorized > Problem-solving Techniques (May 19)

Problem-solving Techniques (May 19)

Taking an organized approach to solving a problem is a good thing. Involving more people in this process to create more options is generally always helpful. Just involving other people has proven to be very useful, especially if those people have some influence over the process/action needed.

Coming up with a creative and realistic solution is what problem-solving is about. Implementing that solution requires another whole set of skills, and like problem-solving, usually works better when lots of differently skilled and differently thinking people are involved. Taking this idea of solution implementation apart, we can come up with many of the same components as we would in implementing any project. Project planning is another whole world of ideas, e.g., see (http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/project-planning-step-by-step.html). Project management is the other side of the coin as it deals with the organization of the implementation, ranging from people management to resource management (e.g., money, raw materials, supplies, consultants, service providers, etc.). The take-home message here is that 1) solutions can be quite complicated from the start (figuring out the solution), through the middle (planning and managing the activity), to the end (evaluating the process and outcomes); 2) there are many supporting “disciplines” to deal with this complicated process (project planning, project management, scheduling tools, organizing software, database, financial tracking, etc.); and 3) there are many organizations that do this (architect/engineering, design firms, project management consultants, etc.). So there is a lot of experienced help out there to deal with complex social and scientific activities targeted at getting something done (landing a man on the moon, building a nuclear power plant, paying for health care for 100 million elderly people, feeding the world).


While this can be both intimidating and expensive, one important thing to keep in mind is that despite the complexity of the planning and implementation, the basic idea of the solution can still be very simple. Thus Wendell Berry’s critique of agribusiness is that despite the government’s $89 billion dollar USDA investment (2008), the hundreds of university research departments, the trillions of dollars of commercial and industrial dollars invested in agribusiness, and the huge consulting industry that has emerged to support agriculture — we still need to ask the simple question: Is the food and the land (= ecosystem) better as a result? The simple problem definition approaches that Professor Hughes leads us through are relevant to this question, despite the “sophistication” and complexity of the agribusiness system.

So in your comment here, think about a problem that you are interested in, think about DOCSKEYS, and reflect on whether you think that a solution that society has chosen is a good one.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Dan Hale
    August 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm | #1

    One problem that I’m interested in is a general lack of consideration for transportation without a car. I was riding my bike from the University Heights Residential Halls to Friendly’s on Williston Road, and I was getting rather perturbed and frightened with the number of cars on the road. I had to pass by high speed on- and off-ramps for the interstate and ride on rutted shoulders next to lines of rushing cars. I waited at a stoplight for about five minutes before a pedestrian crosswalk let me go. As a frequent cyclist, there are certain roads, some of which accessing points of interest, that I avoid outright. This to me is a situation I would like to see changed.

    As a definition to the problem, I’d say it is overly trafficked roads and a lack of consideration for alternative transportation. Outside major cities in America, it is assumed that each self reliant citizen will have access to a car. There is a lack of infrastructure providing affordable, convenient, efficient alternative transportation. For this exercise I would like to limit the problem to Williston Road and the University Mall on Dorset Street.

    In laying out objectives, without having done real research, I’ll say that I want the amount of traffic reduced to a reasonable number (that I’d define with research) at peak hours. Another objective would be to slow the speed of auto traffic to 25 or 30 miles per hour, a speed safer for pedestrians. A third would be well defined bike lanes separate from traffic, with ample racks available in visible areas. A fourth and final objective would be an efficient, punctual, large capacity, affordable, and dignified form of public transit. This could be a train, tram, bus, subway, etc. In America public transit is often seen as a lower class affair, used only by those lacking the funds for automobiles. I’d like to see this change.

    There are of course many constraints, notwithstanding the American mindset. Funding is eternally a constraint. There is also the problem of where the traffic would go while the project is being developed. The number of cars would not necessarily go down, and certainly not immediately. Therefore space would need to be provided for the new revamped bike paths, buses, and racks. Another huge constraint would be public support. Why revamp transportation if the people aren’t open to the change. Without a group of like-minded supporters, the project would never get off the ground.

    Strategies for implementing the plan would be to present it to the town select board, planning and zoning commission, etc. A transportation company and construction company would need to be hired. Preferably, local, sustainably produced materials would be used. A possibility would be to hire volunteer citizens to do some of the manual labor. Trees from the intervale conservation nursery could be planted on the new site.

    The KEY section seems to apply more to action than to conceptualization. The keepers in this instance would most likely boil down to be the traditional method of construction projects. Hopefully some materials would be local, but this remains to be foreseen. As with most projects, some road blocks would need to be navigated, and certain aspects of the plan would need to be adjusted. This type of adaptive management would need to be provided for in the plans and expected throughout the project. Extra funding would be set aside for unforeseeables. Yes! I’d love to see a project such as this carried out sometime in the near future.

    In parallel with Berry’s paper, a project such as this would have a lesser impact on the land. It would encourage people to exercise on foot or bike, to communally travel, and to feel more of an attachment to nature and place. It would be a project looking to the future, creating a more pleasant and sustainable place.

  2. Deane
    May 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm | #2

    Development in Maine is certainly a controversial topic. Your reasoning seems like it has moved through some useful stages. It is certainly complex with a lot of moving parts and many different players (stakeholders). Compromise seems to be the name of the game, and some of the folks on the side of nature point out that these successive compromises result in creeping ecosystem degradation over the long haul. Once started, increasing population pressure along with the resulting development require more space. Stability can only come with some longer scale and scope of planning… which most rural political entities don’t like. Land conservation attempts to start the process of perpetual protection with key places… so I’m glad that’s what you are interested in. We need lots of folks working for that long term.

  3. Jessica Fefer
    May 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm | #3

    It was hard to decide which environmental problem to focus on, but because I am interested in land conservation, I chose the Moosehead region of Northern Maine as my point of reference. For nearly a century the state of Maine was been battling with Plum Creek Timber about a development proposal of epic proportions in New England’s largest stretch of intact forest, around Maine’s Moosehead Lake region. Although I have done my fair share of research about this policy and conservation issue, I still found myself struggling to clearly define the problems, objectives and constraints using Professor Hughes strategy, DOCSKEYS.

    In the beginning of the process, when I attempted to clearly define the problem, I began by doing exactly what Hughes said not to do. I defined my problem as a preconceived solution: ‘We must stop development and deforestation in the Moosehead Region of Northern Maine.’ I quickly realized my mistake, and attempted to break down my over-arching concern into exactly what it was that I hoped to see change. Although I won’t walk you through my entire thought process, some of the things that I saw needed change were as follows:

    -I want sustainable use of the land

    -I want recreational rights for the surrounding people

    -I want a stable economy for the residents

    -I want to see Plum Creek developing in less significant ecosystems and habitats

    -I want future generations to enjoy the remote northern forest as I have been able to do

    These are just a few of the specific problems I wanted to see addressed, and after thinking these through, I realized that the development plan that has been passed isn’t all bad, when I previously thought it was the worst thing to happen to Northern Maine. Of course, there are many aspects that I still want to see changed, but when looking at the ultimate things that I perceive as problems, they include allowing people to use the land recreationally, and ensuring economic stability in the region. The development plan, although it may focus less in some areas where I wish to see more focus, it touches on a few important issues that I hope to see changed.

    As I previously stated, there are shortcomings to their solution as well, such as the scope and the location of development. For instance, many of the resorts and vacation homes proposed by Plum Creek are to be built right along the shoreline, where it will ruin both the aesthetics of the lake, and important wildlife habitat and ecosystem functions. I hope to see a change in these development plans, where they build less resorts and summer homes, and move the existing development plans to places where development has already started to happen, such as around the struggling ski resort in the region.

    It was interesting to go through DOCSKEYS and finding myself actually agreeing with societies solution a bit more than I previously thought. This exercise showed me that by sitting down to actually think an issue through; you find the truth behind what you want to see happen.

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