Activism 101

The Six Best Problem Solving Tools

Post by
Ana Gonzalez
The Six Best Problem Solving Tools

Solving problems is one of the main priorities of any organization. Because of that, problem solving tools are used to improve efficiency by recognizing value add and waste. Is your activist group aiming at implementing a methodical and structured approach that helps to solve problems? Would you like your campaigns to be more organized and more effective? Have a look at these helpful tools!

1. Bridge or Waterfall Chart

These charts are most often used in finance reports. However, since they serve to illustrate any process with additions and subtractions to a starting value, activists can also make the most of this tool. For example, it can be used to analyze the trend of activities such as fundraising or online petitions as well as the budget changes of a campaign.

Also, this type of chart highlights the positive and negative changes to a specific value over a period of time. The use of colors (blue is positive and red is negative) makes it easy to discern ups from downs.

2. Process Map

It visually describes the flow of the activities of a process. Your group can benefit from it when organizing a protest or any action plan that has different options depending on each possible result. Since the process map goes from the macro perspective to the highest level of detail, it also serves to discover new opportunities for the cause.

This is an example of how we can use this tool to plan projects and analyze how a process could be improved.

The following standard symbols are used to describe key process elements within the process map:

3. Power Mapping

This visual tool is used by social advocates to identify the political and social power structures in play. The following questions are essential to identify the role that each stakeholder has on the issue:

  • Who has created the issue?
  • Who has the power to fix it?
  • Who is affected by the issue?
  • Who is already involved trying to resolve the issue?
  • Who is not involved but might support?

Name the different stakeholders and map out your primary targetthe most influential individual that is more likely to support your cause.

You can draw arrows to reflect the relationships between the stakeholders and recognize who you need to reach out first. The ultimate purpose of this tool is to figure out the right strategy to influence the right people and reach a specific goal.

4. The Five Whys

This tool provides an in-depth understanding of a problem. By asking "Why?" five times, we drill down to the real root cause of the issue.  The following example illustrates how this simple technique works:

“There were not as many volunteers under the age of 25 at the event as expected”:

  1. Why?: Because most of the youngest members were not aware of it
  2. Why?: Because the message requesting volunteers did not reach them
  3. Why?: Because it was not communicated through the right channels
  4. Why?: Because it was not published on social media
  5. Why?: Because of lack of time and preparation

5. Fishbone or Cause and Effect Diagram

This pictorial diagram displays the various origins of a problem in order to discover its root cause. Is the cause you are fighting for created by economic, social, environmental or social factors? Since the Fishbone Diagram focuses on causes instead of symptoms, it provides insight into the problem before starting to think about a potential solution.

6. Action Plan

This document gathers the steps or actions that need to be completed to achieve a goal. If you are building a campaign from scratch, you can use it to put the right boundaries on the process so that participants take ownership of the different tasks. This tool is especially powerful for digital activism.

This checklist should include the following six pieces of information:

  • The date the action was created
  • The problem statement
  • The action description
  • The owner of the action
  • The date by which the action needs to be completed
  • The status of the action, usually a RAG (Red, Amber or Green) indicator