Monday, August 30, 2021

On-going cycle of problem solving

Problem solving is a cyclical process. A group of people get together to solve a problem and the solution leads to new problems that needs to be solved, or new learning that leads to year-to-year growth in how the problem is being solved.

I often dream about the strategies I've been developing for the past 40 years. Last night it was about map-based planning. It prompted me to post this article today.  It's a pretty long article, with many links. Take your time in reading it. 

Let's start with the concept map below, which I created in 2015 to show planning as a cyclical process. 

The concept map uses a graphic that I’ve borrowed from a video created by Gene Bellinger, who I met in a Systems Thinking discussion group on LinkedIn.

As I view Gene’s videos, my wish is that someone were doing exactly the same presentation, but focused on bringing people together to solve some of the problems we face in Chicago, which are deeply rooted in poverty, income inequality, political power, etc.

I've hacked Gene's video to copy this graphic, then to create views of each element.

I'm using them to communicate an idea that I launched many years ago in a blog post focused on comparing the thinking and planning process that Generals use to fight wars to what we need to be doing in Chicago to fight poverty and violence by providing stronger, on-going birth-to-work support systems for youth living in high poverty areas. Click on the graphic to enlarge it. Read this article for a full explanation of each step.

In the systems thinking video, this graphic is used to describe a “situation”, something that motivates people to gather to find ways to change the situation. In this and many articles I've posted on this blog the “situation” is poverty, violence, workforce development, poorly performing schools, and an ineffective funding stream to support organizations working to solve the problem.

In this graphic, Gene is focusing on how groups need to gather and review information that helps them understand the situation, as well as potential solutions.

In my own graphic, I show this as the analysis stage (1). I've created a huge library of information that people can use to understand how where you live influences what your future is. This library includes maps, that show all of the areas of Chicago where poverty is concentrated, so that planners provide support services in all of those areas, not just in high profile areas. Robert Putnam's book,"Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," calls attention to how this opportunity gap is growing in America. I wrote about it here.

I use concept maps to outline sections of the library. This map shows research articles in the library. Thus in understanding violence you'd need to look at articles on poverty, drop out issues, social capital, workforce development, crime, etc. You can find this map at

Based on shared understanding a group will propose solutions, and build strategies to implement those solutions. This is the Strategy stage Gene describes. I use this Strategy Map to focus attention on a goal that can be shared by just about everyone, which is to help kids grow up and be starting jobs and careers by their mid-20s. People in different places, and with different resources, will develop different strategies to reach this goal. If they are well supported, and given time, many can be effective.

Steps 2 through 6 of my graphic represent stages of putting a strategy into operation. This includes generating the revenue needed to fund the entire operation, not just parts of it. In the military, the troops in combat are supported by a huge supply chain. We don't have such a system supporting all of the organizations working with youth in Chicago. This is the adoption stage of Gene's video.

As the plan rolls out in its first year data is collected showing what happened, and new information is collected showing how others have been trying to solve the same problem in different places. An analysis of this information leads to improvement in the strategy so it works better the second year.
This graphic illustrates this process of constant improvement as “The Problem Solving Loop”. The “Reality” in this process is that complex problems, such as ending poverty, require many years of effort.

You can read more about this "cyclical process" in an article from my web library titled, “The cyclical process of action research – The contribution of Gilles Deleuze”  I found this in an article that's part of a web library hosted by Geno Bertini.

In action research, a situation is identified and a group of people gather to build understanding and propose solutions. An action plan is developed and the ideas are put in to action. When the initial problem is solved, such as getting a business to donate land for a park, a new situation is created, such as “what do we do with the land”. This requires new people, with new expertise.

In numerous reports about poverty, inequality, workforce development, etc., mentoring is mentioned as a solution. The situation that needs to be addressed is “How do we connect youth and adults and keep them connected long enough for the mentoring to influence the habits and behaviors of the mentee?”

Organized tutor/mentor programs are a solution, but then the “situation” becomes “how do we make these programs available in all of the places where they are needed”.  A variety of mapping platforms are available to support this stage of planning. I show many on the concept map below.  

Maps can include overlays showing indicators, like poverty, violence, poorly performing schools. They can show locations of existing programs. They can even show assets in different parts of the city who should be supporting program growth in different areas. You can find many examples for using maps in articles posted at since 2008.

At this stage of the problem solving there are many different “situations” which need to be addressed concurrently. Every organization working to reduce poverty by helping young people move through school and into jobs, or in helping parents earn a wage that enables them to provide more support to their own kids, has the same needs. They all need volunteers, public visibility (advertising), operating dollars, technology, etc.

I posted an article a couple weeks ago showing how community areas can use maps to determine how many kids are in an area and how many tutor and/or mentor programs are there (if any).  This is a starting point of the analysis that needs to be done. 

Below is another map that demonstrates this analysis. This shows how communities can identify potential assets in their area who should be involved in efforts to help kids through school and into jobs.  View this at this link. 

I've created graphics like this to illustrate the 12 years it takes for a youth to go from first grade through high school. Building funding commitments that sustain this journey in every neighborhood is one of the challenges we need to overcome. One of the PDF essays I've written it titled “tipping points”. It lists some actions that might lead to more and better youth serving organizations in places where they are most needed.

Step 7 of my graphic is one that we struggle with as a country. We fail to keep the issue in front of the public long enough to reach all the people who need to be involved in solving the problem, and we fail to keep them involved for all of the years it takes for great programs to grow in all the places where they are needed, then to grow their impact on youth as they move from first grade to first job, which is a 20 year journey for every youth.

Thus this is another “situation” that requires the involvement of people from many different backgrounds, who innovate ways to communicate ideas and create on-going social purpose advertising, without the same resources that for-profit businesses use to attract customers. Dan Pallotta's TED talk calls attention to this “situation”. Here's a blog article inviting you to be part of that problem solving community.

We need to be influencing what resource providers and policy-makers do, not just what schools and non-profit organizations do. 

I visualize this with another graphic from my blog. Note how it includes elements from several other graphics that were created earlier. The intent is to show that if we want to solve complex problems we need to influence what resource providers do, not just what social service and education providers do.

As I mentioned above, a major challenge is finding ways to reach more people with these ideas, and doing so with few, or no, advertising dollars. One solution is to engage young people in communicating these ideas.

At this link you can see how an intern from South Korea “hacked” my blog article to create a new video interpretation of the first graphic in this article. Here's a page where you can see a video created by a different intern providing an interpretation of the above graphic.

My hope is that many will do this. The information I've shared here can be used by leaders in business, philanthropy, media, politics, education, etc. to engage people in this on-going systems thinking problem solving process. If just a fraction of the billions of dollars spent on electing people in this country were spent to facilitate this problem solving process in every city, perhaps the leaders could actually shrink the poverty and opportunity gaps in America.

Read the articles about learning and network building on this blog. Every person who shares these ideas helps expand the network of people who get involved and stay involved in providing solutions to poverty in one or more places. As one person learns to hack these ideas in their own efforts, they become a leader who then mobilizes others, rather than a bystander who is hoping others “will solve the problem” or who thinks they can build a wall that keeps them and their family safe and not affected.

I do my best with what talent I have to communicate these ideas. I know others can do better. That's why I include links in my articles to other web sites.

Here is a version of the Systems Thinking video which I “hacked” to build this article.

Click here to view this Systems Thinking video

This is one of a series of videos that I hope you'll take time to look at and share with others. Gene does a great job of showing tools to use to create understanding, while also helping us understand how to look at problem solving from a systems thinking perspective.

Here's a section of my web library with links to many other people with great ideas for collaboration, innovation, knowledge management, etc.

Here are more visual essays with strategy ideas that you can use to build your understanding of the situation and potential strategies to solve the problem.

There are thousands of consultants, writers, educators, etc. who provide tools and ideas that people can use to solve problems. Most of these are “generic”. It's like getting a liberal arts degree but needing to learn what to do when you get a job.

I think students in high schools and colleges could hack work done by people like Gene, and build versions that apply those tools and ideas to solving specific problems.

If you're already doing this, please share. Perhaps future cMOOCS will be showcasing such work, and will be helping more people become involved.

This has been a really long article. If you made it this far, thank you for reading it. 

Now imagine having ideas like this flowing through your dreams every night, just like happens to me! 

Note: 7/2/2017 update - here's an updated "creating a better future" page from Gene Bellinger.

No comments: