For any problem, we need to find information (facts and figures) but every problem appears unique and the facts and information we need depends upon the details of the problem. However, five basic questions give us a good start in trying to identify data and will help us to find a solution.
These questions can be used as a checklist. We go through them all, one at a time, and record the answers. Alternatively, we use this checklist to build up a set of questions that are specific for our problem. Once all the questions have been asked we can review the answers in order to determine what to do next.
What do we know?
It is important to differentiate between what we know and what do we think we know. The key difference is that, if we know something, we have evidence.
What do we think we know?
What do we not know?
Again, it is fairly obvious that we should identify what we do not know but it is also important to assess whether we need to know it or not.
What do we need to know?
What has changed?
There is almost always something that has changed. If not, why are we looking at the problem or situation now and not last month, or next month?
What does not fit?
We will almost always quickly form a hypothesis as to what the issues are. As we explore the facts of the situation we may come across information that does not fit with this. This can lead to better understanding of the problem.
Normally our next actions will be driven by the answers to Questions 2 and 4 - we need to confirm information that we don’t have evidence for and we need to find the information that is missing and needed. But, remember it is not always necessary to have all possible information – often a piece of information makes us more comfortable but lack of it does not prevent us from solving the problem.
1) Questions 1 and 2 are a pair. We record anything, relevant to the problem or situation, that we know. If we have evidence to support it, then we record it as "What do we know?" but if there is no evidence, or if the evidence is weak, we record it as "What do we think we know?"
2) Questions 3 and 4 are pairs. We record anything, relevant to the problem or situation, that we do not know. If we need to know it in order to make progress, we record it as "What do we need to know?" along with the reason we need to know. If it is just of interest and will not make any difference to moving forward, then we record it as "What don't we know?"
3) Don't forget the last question. Something that doesn't fit, or is unexpected, is telling us that our understanding of the situation is, at best, incomplete. It may even be totally wrong. Resolving the mismatch will lead us to a better understanding of the problem or situation.
Problem Space is one of the tools available in The Concept Garden.
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