Developing a clear problem statement will help you focus on where to build capacity and how to measure outcomes and plan for sustainability. Interventions without a clearly articulated problem statement may lose steam over time, or not know whether they have made a difference. Communities should use their data about consumption, consequences, readiness, and resources to frame their problem statement in specific terms.
A good problem statement will meet each of the following criteria:
- Identify one issue or problem at a time
- Avoid blame (e.g. “young people do not have enough positive activities,” rather than “the kids here have nothing to do and are troublemakers”)
- Avoid naming specific solutions (e.g. “young people in our neighborhood are getting into trouble during after-school hours,” rather than “we don’t have a youth center”)
- Identify outcomes that are specific enough to be measurable
- Reflect community concerns as heard during the assessment process
When you develop your problem statement, be sure to describe what actually exists that is problematic, rather than what is lacking. A problem statement that defines a problem as a “lack” of something assumes that addressing this lack will solve the problem. In reality, there may be multiple factors that are contributing to the problem.
example, a problem statement that reads, “hospital staff lack training on how to address opioid overdoses” assumes that training alone will solve the problem. In reality, there may be many factors—such as lack of awareness among prescribing providers regarding opioid overdose risk factors, inadequate availability of post overdose care—that also contribute to the problem. Defining the problem as a lack of training alone will narrow your planning focus and direct energy and resources to strategies that are not likely to be sufficient on their own, while other important factors are missed. A better problem statement may be:
“For young adults ages 21–25, the second largest category of drug-related emergency room visits involved the misuse of prescription opioids.”
Keeping the focus on the priority behaviors, consequences, and/or underlying intervening variables at this stage in the planning process will help you select a comprehensive array of strategies that will be more effective in addressing the problems you have identified. 52
Use your local data about consumption, consequences, readiness, and resources to frame your problem statement in more specific terms and to choose the age range to address. Developing a problem statement specific to your community helps your coalition focus on where to build capacity and how to measure outcomes and plan for sustainability .