Crafting a clear problem statement will help you focus on where to build capacity and how to measure outcomes and plan for sustainability. Interventions without a clearly articulated problem statement may lose steam over time; it’s also difficult to know whether they have made a difference. Communities should use their data about consumption, consequences, readiness, and resources to frame their problem statement in specific terms.
A good problem statement will meet each of the following criteria:
- Identify one issue or problem at a time
- Avoid blame (e.g., say, “Young people do not have enough positive activities” rather than, “The kids here have nothing to do and are troublemakers”)
- Avoid naming specific solutions (e.g., say, “Young people in our neighborhood are getting into trouble during after-school hours” rather than “We don’t have a youth center”)
- Identify outcomes that are specific enough to be measurable
- Reflect community concerns as heard during the assessment process
Examples of good problem statements:
- Too many college freshmen in our community (22%) report binge drinking on a regular basis (weekly)
- Too many eighth-graders (15%) in our town report trying alcohol for the first time
Some communities find that they need to develop more than one problem statement. For example, you may need to develop a problem statement that addresses an issue related to consumption and one that addresses an issue related to consequences.
When you develop your problem statement, be sure to describe what actually exists that is problematic, rather than what is lacking.
Example: A problem statement that reads “Teachers lack training on how to address students drinking in school” assumes that addressing this lack by offering training alone will solve the problem. In reality, many factors may also contribute to the problem.
A better statement might be, “The number of high school students who are misusing alcohol is higher than the national average.”
Defining a problem simply as a lack of something will narrow your planning focus and direct energy and resources to strategies that are not likely to be sufficient on their own, while other important factors are missed.
Keeping the focus on the priority behaviors, consequences, and/or underlying intervening variables at this stage in the planning process will help you select a comprehensive array of strategies that will be more effective in addressing the problems you have identified.