3 – Problem finding

The third session of the course mostly looked to the idea of problem finding, with a suggested that design thinking was best applied to ‘wicked’ as opposed to ‘tame’ problems. (Rittel & Webber, 1973) COVID-19 was acknowledged as a good example of a wicked problem and I reflected on my own studies this year in a course called ‘The world in crisis’ where as an exercise I sent a letter to the UN SECGEN outing climate change and its contribution to global human, health, national security and migration challenges as a very good example of a wicked problem.

The idea of ‘Problem Finding’, which is often one of the more complex and oft ignored parts of the the problem solving process (Fontenot, 1993) an example was given where some designers were asked to design a new doorknob for an office, but was that the real problem? The designers applied design thinking and asked wether a doorknob was the best way to open a door, what about say a foot pedal, does the door even need to be closed, or maybe the office doesn’t even need four walls? (Lawson, 2006)

These ideas got me reflecting on some of my experiences at AusAID. I was brought in as a business analyst to work on a new system. My predecessor would as far as I could tell simply work with a select few from the agency and simply write down their requested system changes and liaise with the software engineers to get them developed and tested.

My approach was a little different. I sought to engage widely across the agency and to observe their actual work and business processes. I was met by many who would say “Oh we don’t know IT, I don’t know why you are meeting with us?” and I would say “good, I don’t want you to, just tell me what you do?”. By working in this way I was able to identify issues in business processes that could never have been met by system changes, as well unmet needs that would’ve never had come to light without and open approach to problem finding.

We did a neat little exercise in class, we had to look at these photos, and frame the problems using this template.