Ticket to ride
What are the other attractions in your problem's neighborhood?
Let’s say the problem you are trying to solve was a ride in an amusement park. What would some of the other rides in the amusement park be? How do people feel about those rides when they compare them to your ride?
People are sometimes offended by this question, but if you play along for five minutes, I think you’ll find that it’s rewarding.
None of the problems we are trying to solve exist in isolation. You already know that. You probably have to manage many different aspects of your problem’s context that other people don’t even know exist. Even if you’re only just beginning to research your problem, you’ve probably got a to-do list of tangentially related problems to investigate.
This question gets at something different, though. It helps you tap into the less sophisticated perceptions of how your problem is related to other domains. Whether it’s fair or not, those associations will affect the options available to you as you design new solutions to your problem. But they can open new possibilities too.
I’ll give one quick example. For years, I’ve been working on the problem of social determinants of health — factors like housing and racism that have a much greater effect on long-term health than the problems usually addressed by clinicians. When I bring this up to folks outside the health care field, I am often asked if this means I am also interested in nontraditional therapies like acupuncture.
Why? I still haven’t completely figured it out. Maybe it’s just the folks I hang out with. But a few of them have told me something like, “It sounds to me like you’re questioning Western doctors’ stories about where disease comes from.” And in a way, I am! Perhaps this association could lead to solutions I haven’t yet considered.
So it turns out “social determinants of health” and “acupuncture” are two rides in “Critiquing the Health Care System Land” (undoubtedly my favorite amusement park). What other “rides” are next to the problem you are trying to solve? How do you feel about them?
This question is an example of how to explore perceptions of a social problem using the parthood dynamic. It’s one of six innovation dynamics I use to help people improve their critical thinking and build strategies for social change. Reply to this e-mail with your answer to the question and we can get to work. Or learn more by visiting http://www.teachingsocialchange.com.