To achieve Step 10, individuals will show that they can create a range of solutions for complex problems and then evaluate their positive and negative effects.
In the previous step, individuals looked at how to create a variety of solutions for complex problems and deciding which of them were feasible to create a manageable shortlist. In this step, individuals evaluate those solutions to choose the optimal solution or combination of solutions.
The building blocks of this step are learning:
When considering how to choose between possible solutions to a complicated problem in Step 5 we used the pros and cons to think about the positive and negative effects of a potential solution.
For complex problems, it is essential to start by thinking about what the primary goal is that one is trying to achieve, but also what some of the secondary goals are:
One of the things that make complex problems challenging to deal with is that sometimes the secondary goals are not always known at the outset. Instead, they emerge as the complex problem is explored, and some of the trade-offs between different choices emerge.
It is also important to remember that not everyone will see the strengths and weaknesses in the same way, depending on their diverse perspectives and whether they have other goals that they are trying to achieve from the solution. Something which is an advantage to one person might be a disadvantage to another – for example, more parking might make it easier for someone to travel to the park. Still, for the local resident, the additional pollution and traffic from more people driving to the park is a significant disadvantage.
When we think about complex problems, we have probably already done some research, thought about causes and effects and how those link together.
Another challenge of complex problems is that solving part of them might lead to secondary effects which can negative impacts that we do not initially expect. For example, trying to increase wildlife in a local park through hiring more park wardens might lead to a budget shortage for the council, so they then reduce spending on something else like street cleaning. This makes the town dirtier and more polluted and reduces wildlife across the town.
Therefore, it is important to evaluate potential solutions not just in terms of whether they help to achieve the primary and secondary goals, but also whether they will have any secondary effects that could be damaging.
When you have a complex problem to deal with in school, college or university, it will be important to think about what you are trying to achieve. What is your primary goal? There may also be secondary goals to consider. A secondary goal matters too. It is something that your solution to the complex problem also needs to be able to do. For example, your primary goal might be to gain a place at a particular college or university for example as your next step. The secondary goals might be that you may need certain grades in particular subjects in order to secure that place. Secondary goals can act as constraints. The secondary goals are not always clear when you begin tackling a complex problem – this can be a problem in itself! As you explore the problem, it can become even more challenging as you may need to consider different perspectives – an advantage, a positive to one person, may be a disadvantage, a negative, to another. Discussing ideas with friends, teachers and tutors can help you evaluate the positive and negatives effects of a range of solutions.
At work, you may find as you solve one part of a complex problem, secondary effects are revealed, causing issues that were not expected. In any business or organisation these effects will need to be considered in advance and dealt with promptly so as to not have any negative consequences. Being able to respond in a calm, measured way to evaluate the situation, and adapt plans as appropriate will mean the primary goal can still be achieved.
Wherever or whenever a complex problem is being dealt with it is important to consider carefully any potential solutions: both in terms of whether they help achieve the primary and secondary goals, but also whether any secondary effects could cause further problems or be damaging in some way. Moving to a new town or city far away from family and friends, for example, may be very exciting and fulfill the primary goal of living, learning and working in a new place but if the secondary effect is someone is dreadfully homesick because it is too far or too expensive to travel home regularly they may need to reconsider the location for a move. Being able to consider both the positive and negative effects of a range of solutions is helpful.
To best practise this step of Problem Solving, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!
To teach this step:
The teacher can introduce a model of a complex problem that the learners can work through together. For example, how to help learners do better in their exams (it is essential to pick a model that learners will be able to relate to, and have some prior knowledge they can deploy).
This structured exercise could be extended by giving learners another complex problem to grapple with – perhaps something which is a challenge in their community.
The key concepts here that lend themselves to regular reinforcement across other learning are those of primary goals, secondary goals and secondary effects. These ideas can be revisited in lots of areas of education.
This step is best assessed through posing a complex problem to learners and asking them to work through solving that problem. This might also take the form of an extended project linked to subject learning. You might want to use this as an opportunity to see evidence of Step 6-10 looking to see that learners can:
This step is relevant to individuals who handle complex problems at work. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:
Show an individual an example which they can follow. To do this a manager could introduce the example complex problem of improving a company’s financial performance. Through this demonstration they could illustrate key stages of the process:
There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:
For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observation and discussion with an individual. For instance:
During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:
We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.
We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:
We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.
At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including: