Not all problems are created equal. Using one’s intuition or past practices might work for solving very simple problems. Yet our past and our view of the future may limit our solutions. When we are facing an issue or challenge that requires a fresh solution and has many interrelated components — perhaps several different constituents are involved or can be effected by the solution — a more robust process will bring you a clearer, more novel solution. Based on Snowden’s (2007) research, there are four levels of problems – simple, complicated, complex and chaotic. As director of the Alber Enterprise Center, I helped to develop an issue management model specifically designed to resolve our clients’ complex problems.
In my own research comparing The BRIDGE Issue Management Process with other, more basic problem-solving models, I determined that there are three features that differentiate our model. The BRIDGE:
- Identifies a system of interrelated solutions that resolve the issue;
- Provides templates for clients to document the desired outcomes, action steps, measurements, and resources into formal documents; and
- Gains buy-in from their respective organizations to implement and sustain the solution.
Deciding how to solve problems and issues can create a challenge in itself. Giroux (2009) conducted a study of the decision-making habits of small business owners and entrepreneurs in Canada. Using one’s intuition seems to be a common practice, as was learning from past incorrect decisions. Also, emotions may unduly influence the decision if the problem is critical to the success of the business. Without a formal process that helps them view the problem objectively, small business owners sometimes lacked the ability to make sound decisions (Giroux, 2009). They are limited by their past experience and their view of the horizon.
There is history in the phrase “issue management process.” It was coined by the late Howard Chase in 1976 to describe a process he crafted for corporations to manage their public relations image and to influence public policy. Although Chase restricted his model to the corporate and public policy environment, issue management eventually progressed into a discipline used by other types of entities to develop strategies for a wide range of issues in their respective environments.
Extension’s new “signature program,” The BRIDGE: Issue Management Process, is not actually a program as educators know it. It is a tool that anyone experienced with facilitating groups can utilize to solve complex issues with their constituents. The BRIDGE creatively incorporates adaptations of several organization analysis tools designed by business scholars arranged in a logical flow. First, the facilitator carefully chooses stakeholders familiar with the issue and invites them to a workshop to guide them through the process. The facilitator then coaches the participants to storyboard what they can control or influence about the issue; to reflect on where they are currently and what they want as an end result in measurable terms; and to identify forces driving the issue as well as barriers that must be overcome. The group then designs a comprehensive, multifaceted solution that specifies the action steps and addresses the human resistance to change that may hold back implementation. Creating an evaluation plan for monitoring the outcomes is the final phase of the process.
We use The BRIDGE when 1) there are many components to an issue that are interrelated, and minor changes to one component could cause major consequences to others; 2) we want a creative solution that has not been done before; and 3) we have a short time period to resolve the issue.
I hope that this post helps to broaden your perspective on problem-solving vs. issue management, and that the next time you’re faced with a complex issue, you’ll reach for The BRIDGE tool kit.