Reframing is an approach to identifying problems designed to help you think about them in different ways and thereby widen the range of possible solutions.
Also known as
Problem framing enables you to articulate the specific problem you want to address and the problem statement template provides you with a template that structures discussion to help you to do this.
Why use it
- Reframing is not so much a tool as a way of thinking. The idea is to throw out your assumptions and try to see the issue you are seeking to solve from new angles. By seeing your problem differently, you may be able to create solutions you would otherwise have never considered.
- By taking the time to reframe the problem, you will avoid jumping straight into trying to implement a solution before you fully understand what the problem is. Reframing gives you confidence you are tackling the correct problem(s) before you advance into developing solutions.
When to use it
The reframing canvas is used in conjunction with other tools. It helps you organise the information you have found during the discovery phase of service design in a way that helps you think around your problems and articulate them differently. It helps you to see ways of defining problems. Then, when you have decided what your problem is, you can follow up your reframing exercise with root cause analysis and so on.
How to use it
Before you begin, you should explain to any workshop participants or co-designers the scope and rationale for this method and make it clear you are not looking for solutions at the moment, but you are looking for alternative ways to articulate the problem you are facing.
Carry out the exercise as a quick, iterative process.
Below are six things which can help you identify alternative problems to address.
- Bring outsiders into the discussion.
- ‘Outsiders’ don’t have to be from outside the organisation. Instead, they can be someone close to but outside the usual decision-making circle. Such ‘outsiders’ may offer a fresh perspective onto the question being discussed.
- Choose as your ‘outsider’ someone who has the confidence to speak freely. Expect input, not solutions from them. While the comments they make may not solve the problem they may prompt your team to rethink it.
- Get people to write down what they think the problem is.
- It’s not uncommon for people to leave a meeting assuming they agree on what a problem looks like only to realise afterwards that they have come away with different views of the issue.
- Ask for individual definitions of the problem. These individual definitions of the problem should ideally be gathered in advance of a discussion. If possible, ask people to send you a few lines in a confidential message. Get them to write in sentence form to make sure the detail of their idea is communicated (bullet points may be too condensed for this).
- Copy the definitions to a flip chart or board so everyone can see them and react to them in the meeting. Don’t attribute the definitions to any particular person; you want to make sure people’s judgment of a definition isn’t affected by the definer’s identity or status.
- Receiving multiple definitions will expose you to the viewpoints of other stakeholders.
- (See also empathy maps, personas, journey maps.)
- Make sure to ask what’s missing.
- When you ask people to look at the description of a problem, respondents are likely to concentrate on the details of what has been stated rather than paying attention to what the description might be leaving out. To rectify this, make sure to ask explicitly what has not been captured or mentioned.
- Consider multiple categories.
- Invite people to identify specifically what category of problem they think the group is facing. Is it an incentive problem? An expectations problem? An attitude problem? Then try to suggest other categories.
- As these questions overlap with root cause analysis, you need to resist the temptation to disappear down a rabbit hole of detail. You are still looking for a broad brush picture here.
- Analyse positive exceptions; where has the problem NOT arisen?
- Look for instances when the problem did not occur, asking, ‘What was different about that situation?’ Exploring positive exceptions can uncover hidden factors whose influence the group may not have considered.
- Looking at positive exceptions can make discussions less threatening. Especially in a large group or other public setting, dissecting a string of failures can quickly become confrontational and make people defensive. If, instead, you ask people to analyse a positive outcome, it becomes easier for them to examine their own behaviour.
- Question the objective.
- Another way to reframe a problem is to pay attention to the objectives of the parties involved, first clarifying and then challenging them. What is it the respondent wants to get out of a task? Why are they doing it? What they are trying to achieve may not always be what you assume.
Use in conjunction with
- Wedell-Wedellsborg, T. (2017) Are you solving the right problems? Available at: https://hbr.org/2017/01/are-you-solving-the-right-problems (Accessed: 5 December 2023).
- choij. (2021) Introducing the updated problem framing canvas! Available at: https://itk.mitre.org/2021/01/07/updated-problem-framing/ (Accessed: 5 December 2023).