Develop a problem tree

Another exercise that can support the reflective observation process of Step 3 is mapping out a problem tree. The care process analysis should have revealed particular challenges that were then elucidated further through the shadowing, discovery interviews, and consultation. A problem tree is a way of narrowing down which problem is going to be addressed and clarifying both how this problem fits within a wider framework and what its components are. If a suite of problems have been identified, a diagram of how these problems relate can be drawn up.

Within problem trees, the core problems form the ‘roots’ of the tree, and the consequences become the ‘branches’. Some of the problems may be similar to one another and can be grouped together, with roots linking into one another. Others may be subcomponents of larger problems, forming sub-sections of individual roots. Some of the consequence branches may come directly from specific roots, whereas others may be broader and the effect of the sum total of the roots. By highlighting the relationships between problems, problem trees help to break down the larger challenge into manageable and definable chunks and show how tackling one or two of the problems could have a wider impact. They can also help establish which are the key problems that most need to be addressed.

Of course, the arts may not be able to solve all problems. It may be that the most effective way of using the arts is not to tackle the largest problem but rather to remove a series of smaller problems at specific levels, presenting a complete solution to some clearly defined and manageable problems. Alternatively, it may be that an arts intervention is best placed trying to improve the situation relating to one or more larger problems, even if solving them entirely is not feasible. Both possibilities have their own respective merits. However, it is generally easier to engage stakeholders and funders with interventions that solve a very targeted problem. That said, if the problem selected is too specific it may not translate into much of a change overall (not changing much of the external structure of the tree), thus not leaving much room for an arts intervention to achieve meaningful effects. So a balance between these extremes is important.

The Australian website ‘Evaluation Toolbox’, which aims to support community sustainability engagement programmes, contains a section on Problem Trees under its ‘tools’:

Overall, Step 3 should have built on the contextualizing work of Step 1 and the observational work of Step 2, meaning that there is a clear target group, stage of the care process, and problem that an intervention is going to tackle, and the environment within which this work is going to be undertaken is understood. This should form a firm foundation for Step 4, which involves developing an effective and targeted intervention.

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