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What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)

Adopting the right problem-solving approach

May 4, 2023 You’ve defined your problem, ensured stakeholders are aligned, and are ready to bring the right problem-solving approach and focus to the situation to find an optimal solution. But what is the right problem-solving approach? And what if there is no single ideal course of action? In our 2013 classic  from the Quarterly , senior partner Olivier Leclerc  highlights the value of taking a number of different approaches simultaneously to solve difficult problems. Read on to discover the five flexons, or problem-solving languages, that can be applied to the same problem to generate richer insights and more innovative solutions. Then check out more insights on problem-solving approaches, and dive into examples of pressing challenges organizations are contending with now.

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

  • Tips for more effective problem-solving

Complete problem-solving methods

  • Problem-solving techniques to identify and analyze problems
  • Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Every effective problem solving process begins with an agenda . A well-structured workshop is one of the best methods for successfully guiding a group from exploring a problem to implementing a solution.

In SessionLab, it’s easy to go from an idea to a complete agenda . Start by dragging and dropping your core problem solving activities into place . Add timings, breaks and necessary materials before sharing your agenda with your colleagues.

The resulting agenda will be your guide to an effective and productive problem solving session that will also help you stay organized on the day!

is problem solving approach

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design a great agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

Check out our workshop planning guide to level-up your agenda design and start running more effective workshops. Need inspiration? Check out templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your process!

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

  • Six Thinking Hats
  • Lightning Decision Jam
  • Problem Definition Process
  • Discovery & Action Dialogue
Design Sprint 2.0
  • Open Space Technology

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

  • The Creativity Dice
  • Fishbone Analysis
  • Problem Tree
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Agreement-Certainty Matrix
  • The Journalistic Six
  • LEGO Challenge
  • What, So What, Now What?
  • Journalists

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

  • Improved Solutions
  • Four-Step Sketch
  • 15% Solutions
  • How-Now-Wow matrix
  • Impact Effort Matrix

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

  • Check-in/Check-out
  • Doodling Together
  • Show and Tell
  • Constellations
  • Draw a Tree

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

  • One Breath Feedback
  • Who What When Matrix
  • Response Cards

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Save time and effort discovering the right solutions

A structured problem solving process is a surefire way of solving tough problems, discovering creative solutions and driving organizational change. But how can you design for successful outcomes?

With SessionLab, it’s easy to design engaging workshops that deliver results. Drag, drop and reorder blocks  to build your agenda. When you make changes or update your agenda, your session  timing   adjusts automatically , saving you time on manual adjustments.

Collaborating with stakeholders or clients? Share your agenda with a single click and collaborate in real-time. No more sending documents back and forth over email.

Explore  how to use SessionLab  to design effective problem solving workshops or  watch this five minute video  to see the planner in action!

is problem solving approach

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

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thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Your list of techniques for problem solving can be helpfully extended by adding TRIZ to the list of techniques. TRIZ has 40 problem solving techniques derived from methods inventros and patent holders used to get new patents. About 10-12 are general approaches. many organization sponsor classes in TRIZ that are used to solve business problems or general organiztational problems. You can take a look at TRIZ and dwonload a free internet booklet to see if you feel it shound be included per your selection process.

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The Problem-Solving Process

Looking at the basic problem-solving process to help keep you on the right track.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Problem-solving is an important part of planning and decision-making. The process has much in common with the decision-making process, and in the case of complex decisions, can form part of the process itself.

We face and solve problems every day, in a variety of guises and of differing complexity. Some, such as the resolution of a serious complaint, require a significant amount of time, thought and investigation. Others, such as a printer running out of paper, are so quickly resolved they barely register as a problem at all.

is problem solving approach

Despite the everyday occurrence of problems, many people lack confidence when it comes to solving them, and as a result may chose to stay with the status quo rather than tackle the issue. Broken down into steps, however, the problem-solving process is very simple. While there are many tools and techniques available to help us solve problems, the outline process remains the same.

The main stages of problem-solving are outlined below, though not all are required for every problem that needs to be solved.

is problem solving approach

1. Define the Problem

Clarify the problem before trying to solve it. A common mistake with problem-solving is to react to what the problem appears to be, rather than what it actually is. Write down a simple statement of the problem, and then underline the key words. Be certain there are no hidden assumptions in the key words you have underlined. One way of doing this is to use a synonym to replace the key words. For example, ‘We need to encourage higher productivity ’ might become ‘We need to promote superior output ’ which has a different meaning.

2. Analyze the Problem

Ask yourself, and others, the following questions.

  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • When is it occurring?
  • Why is it happening?

Be careful not to jump to ‘who is causing the problem?’. When stressed and faced with a problem it is all too easy to assign blame. This, however, can cause negative feeling and does not help to solve the problem. As an example, if an employee is underperforming, the root of the problem might lie in a number of areas, such as lack of training, workplace bullying or management style. To assign immediate blame to the employee would not therefore resolve the underlying issue.

Once the answers to the where, when and why have been determined, the following questions should also be asked:

  • Where can further information be found?
  • Is this information correct, up-to-date and unbiased?
  • What does this information mean in terms of the available options?

3. Generate Potential Solutions

When generating potential solutions it can be a good idea to have a mixture of ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ thinkers. In other words, some people who think laterally and some who think logically. This provides a balance in terms of generating the widest possible variety of solutions while also being realistic about what can be achieved. There are many tools and techniques which can help produce solutions, including thinking about the problem from a number of different perspectives, and brainstorming, where a team or individual write as many possibilities as they can think of to encourage lateral thinking and generate a broad range of potential solutions.

4. Select Best Solution

When selecting the best solution, consider:

  • Is this a long-term solution, or a ‘quick fix’?
  • Is the solution achievable in terms of available resources and time?
  • Are there any risks associated with the chosen solution?
  • Could the solution, in itself, lead to other problems?

This stage in particular demonstrates why problem-solving and decision-making are so closely related.

5. Take Action

In order to implement the chosen solution effectively, consider the following:

  • What will the situation look like when the problem is resolved?
  • What needs to be done to implement the solution? Are there systems or processes that need to be adjusted?
  • What will be the success indicators?
  • What are the timescales for the implementation? Does the scale of the problem/implementation require a project plan?
  • Who is responsible?

Once the answers to all the above questions are written down, they can form the basis of an action plan.

6. Monitor and Review

One of the most important factors in successful problem-solving is continual observation and feedback. Use the success indicators in the action plan to monitor progress on a regular basis. Is everything as expected? Is everything on schedule? Keep an eye on priorities and timelines to prevent them from slipping.

If the indicators are not being met, or if timescales are slipping, consider what can be done. Was the plan realistic? If so, are sufficient resources being made available? Are these resources targeting the correct part of the plan? Or does the plan need to be amended? Regular review and discussion of the action plan is important so small adjustments can be made on a regular basis to help keep everything on track.

Once all the indicators have been met and the problem has been resolved, consider what steps can now be taken to prevent this type of problem recurring? It may be that the chosen solution already prevents a recurrence, however if an interim or partial solution has been chosen it is important not to lose momentum.

Problems, by their very nature, will not always fit neatly into a structured problem-solving process. This process, therefore, is designed as a framework which can be adapted to individual needs and nature.

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How to Solve Problems

  • Laura Amico

is problem solving approach

To bring the best ideas forward, teams must build psychological safety.

Teams today aren’t just asked to execute tasks: They’re called upon to solve problems. You’d think that many brains working together would mean better solutions, but the reality is that too often problem-solving teams fall victim to inefficiency, conflict, and cautious conclusions. The two charts below will help your team think about how to collaborate better and come up with the best solutions for the thorniest challenges.

  • Laura Amico is a former senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Solving problems the cognitive-behavioral way, problem solving is another part of behavioral therapy..

Posted February 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

  • What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
  • Find a therapist who practices CBT
  • Problem-solving is one technique used on the behavioral side of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • The problem-solving technique is an iterative, five-step process that requires one to identify the problem and test different solutions.
  • The technique differs from ad-hoc problem-solving in its suspension of judgment and evaluation of each solution.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, cognitive behavioral therapy is more than challenging negative, automatic thoughts. There is a whole behavioral piece of this therapy that focuses on what people do and how to change their actions to support their mental health. In this post, I’ll talk about the problem-solving technique from cognitive behavioral therapy and what makes it unique.

The problem-solving technique

While there are many different variations of this technique, I am going to describe the version I typically use, and which includes the main components of the technique:

The first step is to clearly define the problem. Sometimes, this includes answering a series of questions to make sure the problem is described in detail. Sometimes, the client is able to define the problem pretty clearly on their own. Sometimes, a discussion is needed to clearly outline the problem.

The next step is generating solutions without judgment. The "without judgment" part is crucial: Often when people are solving problems on their own, they will reject each potential solution as soon as they or someone else suggests it. This can lead to feeling helpless and also discarding solutions that would work.

The third step is evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This is the step where judgment comes back.

Fourth, the client picks the most feasible solution that is most likely to work and they try it out.

The fifth step is evaluating whether the chosen solution worked, and if not, going back to step two or three to find another option. For step five, enough time has to pass for the solution to have made a difference.

This process is iterative, meaning the client and therapist always go back to the beginning to make sure the problem is resolved and if not, identify what needs to change.

Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

Advantages of the problem-solving technique

The problem-solving technique might differ from ad hoc problem-solving in several ways. The most obvious is the suspension of judgment when coming up with solutions. We sometimes need to withhold judgment and see the solution (or problem) from a different perspective. Deliberately deciding not to judge solutions until later can help trigger that mindset change.

Another difference is the explicit evaluation of whether the solution worked. When people usually try to solve problems, they don’t go back and check whether the solution worked. It’s only if something goes very wrong that they try again. The problem-solving technique specifically includes evaluating the solution.

Lastly, the problem-solving technique starts with a specific definition of the problem instead of just jumping to solutions. To figure out where you are going, you have to know where you are.

One benefit of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach is the behavioral side. The behavioral part of therapy is a wide umbrella that includes problem-solving techniques among other techniques. Accessing multiple techniques means one is more likely to address the client’s main concern.

Salene M. W. Jones Ph.D.

Salene M. W. Jones, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Washington State.

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10 Problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head

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What is an example of problem-solving?

What are the 5 steps to problem-solving, 10 effective problem-solving strategies, what skills do efficient problem solvers have, how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes — from workplace conflict to budget cuts.

Creative problem-solving is one of the most in-demand skills in all roles and industries. It can boost an organization’s human capital and give it a competitive edge. 

Problem-solving strategies are ways of approaching problems that can help you look beyond the obvious answers and find the best solution to your problem . 

Let’s take a look at a five-step problem-solving process and how to combine it with proven problem-solving strategies. This will give you the tools and skills to solve even your most complex problems.

Good problem-solving is an essential part of the decision-making process . To see what a problem-solving process might look like in real life, let’s take a common problem for SaaS brands — decreasing customer churn rates.

To solve this problem, the company must first identify it. In this case, the problem is that the churn rate is too high. 

Next, they need to identify the root causes of the problem. This could be anything from their customer service experience to their email marketing campaigns. If there are several problems, they will need a separate problem-solving process for each one. 

Let’s say the problem is with email marketing — they’re not nurturing existing customers. Now that they’ve identified the problem, they can start using problem-solving strategies to look for solutions. 

This might look like coming up with special offers, discounts, or bonuses for existing customers. They need to find ways to remind them to use their products and services while providing added value. This will encourage customers to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

They might also want to add incentives, such as access to a premium service at no extra cost after 12 months of membership. They could publish blog posts that help their customers solve common problems and share them as an email newsletter.

The company should set targets and a time frame in which to achieve them. This will allow leaders to measure progress and identify which actions yield the best results.

team-meeting-problem-solving-strategies

Perhaps you’ve got a problem you need to tackle. Or maybe you want to be prepared the next time one arises. Either way, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the five steps of problem-solving. 

Use this step-by-step problem-solving method with the strategies in the following section to find possible solutions to your problem.

1. Identify the problem

The first step is to know which problem you need to solve. Then, you need to find the root cause of the problem. 

The best course of action is to gather as much data as possible, speak to the people involved, and separate facts from opinions. 

Once this is done, formulate a statement that describes the problem. Use rational persuasion to make sure your team agrees .

2. Break the problem down 

Identifying the problem allows you to see which steps need to be taken to solve it. 

First, break the problem down into achievable blocks. Then, use strategic planning to set a time frame in which to solve the problem and establish a timeline for the completion of each stage.

3. Generate potential solutions

At this stage, the aim isn’t to evaluate possible solutions but to generate as many ideas as possible. 

Encourage your team to use creative thinking and be patient — the best solution may not be the first or most obvious one.

Use one or more of the different strategies in the following section to help come up with solutions — the more creative, the better.

4. Evaluate the possible solutions

Once you’ve generated potential solutions, narrow them down to a shortlist. Then, evaluate the options on your shortlist. 

There are usually many factors to consider. So when evaluating a solution, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my team be on board with the proposition?
  • Does the solution align with organizational goals ?
  • Is the solution likely to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Is the solution realistic and possible with current resources and constraints?
  • Will the solution solve the problem without causing additional unintended problems?

woman-helping-her-colleague-problem-solving-strategies

5. Implement and monitor the solutions

Once you’ve identified your solution and got buy-in from your team, it’s time to implement it. 

But the work doesn’t stop there. You need to monitor your solution to see whether it actually solves your problem. 

Request regular feedback from the team members involved and have a monitoring and evaluation plan in place to measure progress.

If the solution doesn’t achieve your desired results, start this step-by-step process again.

There are many different ways to approach problem-solving. Each is suitable for different types of problems. 

The most appropriate problem-solving techniques will depend on your specific problem. You may need to experiment with several strategies before you find a workable solution.

Here are 10 effective problem-solving strategies for you to try:

  • Use a solution that worked before
  • Brainstorming
  • Work backward
  • Use the Kipling method
  • Draw the problem
  • Use trial and error
  • Sleep on it
  • Get advice from your peers
  • Use the Pareto principle
  • Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Let’s break each of these down.

1. Use a solution that worked before

It might seem obvious, but if you’ve faced similar problems in the past, look back to what worked then. See if any of the solutions could apply to your current situation and, if so, replicate them.

2. Brainstorming

The more people you enlist to help solve the problem, the more potential solutions you can come up with.

Use different brainstorming techniques to workshop potential solutions with your team. They’ll likely bring something you haven’t thought of to the table.

3. Work backward

Working backward is a way to reverse engineer your problem. Imagine your problem has been solved, and make that the starting point.

Then, retrace your steps back to where you are now. This can help you see which course of action may be most effective.

4. Use the Kipling method

This is a method that poses six questions based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “ I Keep Six Honest Serving Men .” 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is the problem important?
  • When did the problem arise, and when does it need to be solved?
  • How did the problem happen?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • Who does the problem affect?

Answering these questions can help you identify possible solutions.

5. Draw the problem

Sometimes it can be difficult to visualize all the components and moving parts of a problem and its solution. Drawing a diagram can help.

This technique is particularly helpful for solving process-related problems. For example, a product development team might want to decrease the time they take to fix bugs and create new iterations. Drawing the processes involved can help you see where improvements can be made.

woman-drawing-mind-map-problem-solving-strategies

6. Use trial-and-error

A trial-and-error approach can be useful when you have several possible solutions and want to test them to see which one works best.

7. Sleep on it

Finding the best solution to a problem is a process. Remember to take breaks and get enough rest . Sometimes, a walk around the block can bring inspiration, but you should sleep on it if possible.

A good night’s sleep helps us find creative solutions to problems. This is because when you sleep, your brain sorts through the day’s events and stores them as memories. This enables you to process your ideas at a subconscious level. 

If possible, give yourself a few days to develop and analyze possible solutions. You may find you have greater clarity after sleeping on it. Your mind will also be fresh, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.

8. Get advice from your peers

Getting input from a group of people can help you find solutions you may not have thought of on your own. 

For solo entrepreneurs or freelancers, this might look like hiring a coach or mentor or joining a mastermind group. 

For leaders , it might be consulting other members of the leadership team or working with a business coach .

It’s important to recognize you might not have all the skills, experience, or knowledge necessary to find a solution alone. 

9. Use the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — can help you identify possible root causes and potential solutions for your problems.

Although it’s not a mathematical law, it’s a principle found throughout many aspects of business and life. For example, 20% of the sales reps in a company might close 80% of the sales. 

You may be able to narrow down the causes of your problem by applying the Pareto principle. This can also help you identify the most appropriate solutions.

10. Add successful solutions to your toolkit

Every situation is different, and the same solutions might not always work. But by keeping a record of successful problem-solving strategies, you can build up a solutions toolkit. 

These solutions may be applicable to future problems. Even if not, they may save you some of the time and work needed to come up with a new solution.

three-colleagues-looking-at-computer-problem-solving-strategies

Improving problem-solving skills is essential for professional development — both yours and your team’s. Here are some of the key skills of effective problem solvers:

  • Critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Communication skills , including active listening
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and prioritization
  • Emotional intelligence , including empathy and emotional regulation
  • Time management
  • Data analysis
  • Research skills
  • Project management

And they see problems as opportunities. Everyone is born with problem-solving skills. But accessing these abilities depends on how we view problems. Effective problem-solvers see problems as opportunities to learn and improve.

Ready to work on your problem-solving abilities? Get started with these seven tips.

1. Build your problem-solving skills

One of the best ways to improve your problem-solving skills is to learn from experts. Consider enrolling in organizational training , shadowing a mentor , or working with a coach .

2. Practice

Practice using your new problem-solving skills by applying them to smaller problems you might encounter in your daily life. 

Alternatively, imagine problematic scenarios that might arise at work and use problem-solving strategies to find hypothetical solutions.

3. Don’t try to find a solution right away

Often, the first solution you think of to solve a problem isn’t the most appropriate or effective.

Instead of thinking on the spot, give yourself time and use one or more of the problem-solving strategies above to activate your creative thinking. 

two-colleagues-talking-at-corporate-event-problem-solving-strategies

4. Ask for feedback

Receiving feedback is always important for learning and growth. Your perception of your problem-solving skills may be different from that of your colleagues. They can provide insights that help you improve. 

5. Learn new approaches and methodologies

There are entire books written about problem-solving methodologies if you want to take a deep dive into the subject. 

We recommend starting with “ Fixed — How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving ” by Amy E. Herman. 

6. Experiment

Tried-and-tested problem-solving techniques can be useful. However, they don’t teach you how to innovate and develop your own problem-solving approaches. 

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can lead to the development of a brilliant new idea or strategy. So don’t be afraid to suggest your most “out there” ideas.

7. Analyze the success of your competitors

Do you have competitors who have already solved the problem you’re facing? Look at what they did, and work backward to solve your own problem. 

For example, Netflix started in the 1990s as a DVD mail-rental company. Its main competitor at the time was Blockbuster. 

But when streaming became the norm in the early 2000s, both companies faced a crisis. Netflix innovated, unveiling its streaming service in 2007. 

If Blockbuster had followed Netflix’s example, it might have survived. Instead, it declared bankruptcy in 2010.

Use problem-solving strategies to uplevel your business

When facing a problem, it’s worth taking the time to find the right solution. 

Otherwise, we risk either running away from our problems or headlong into solutions. When we do this, we might miss out on other, better options.

Use the problem-solving strategies outlined above to find innovative solutions to your business’ most perplexing problems.

If you’re ready to take problem-solving to the next level, request a demo with BetterUp . Our expert coaches specialize in helping teams develop and implement strategies that work.

Boost your productivity

Maximize your time and productivity with strategies from our expert coaches.

Elizabeth Perry, ACC

Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships. With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

8 creative solutions to your most challenging problems

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What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

is problem solving approach

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

is problem solving approach

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Problem-Solving Therapy Techniques

How effective is problem-solving therapy, things to consider, how to get started.

Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness.

Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression , among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches.

At a Glance

Problem-solving therapy is a short-term treatment used to help people who are experiencing depression, stress, PTSD, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and other mental health problems develop the tools they need to deal with challenges. This approach teaches people to identify problems, generate solutions, and implement those solutions. Let's take a closer look at how problem-solving therapy can help people be more resilient and adaptive in the face of stress.

Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past.

This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth . Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. 

Key Components

There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework:

  • Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life
  • Using problem-solving skills

A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy , and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like:

  • Knowing how to identify a problem
  • Defining the problem in a helpful way
  • Trying to understand the problem more deeply
  • Setting goals related to the problem
  • Generating alternative, creative solutions to the problem
  • Choosing the best course of action
  • Implementing the choice you have made
  • Evaluating the outcome to determine next steps

Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques.

Planful Problem-Solving

One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation : This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions : This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered.
  • Decision-making strategies : This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification : This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem.

Other Techniques

Other techniques your therapist may go over include:

  • Problem-solving multitasking , which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress
  • Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA) , which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict
  • Healthy thinking and imagery , which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving

What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With

Problem-solving therapy addresses life stress issues and focuses on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with various psychological and physiological symptoms.

Mental Health Issues

Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like:

  • Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues
  • Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Emotional distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

Specific Life Challenges

This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Everyday life stressors
  • Family problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relationship conflicts

Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you.

Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include:

  • Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger)
  • Confidence that you can handle problems that you face
  • Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems
  • Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the issues you face
  • Increased confidence to find creative solutions
  • Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress
  • Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking
  • The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix")

Problem-solving therapy can help people feel more empowered to deal with the problems they face in their lives. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when stressors begin to take a toll, this therapy introduces new coping skills that can boost self-efficacy and resilience .

Other Types of Therapy

Other similar types of therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) . While these therapies work to change thinking and behaviors, they work a bit differently. Both CBT and SFBT are less structured than problem-solving therapy and may focus on broader issues. CBT focuses on identifying and changing maladaptive thoughts, and SFBT works to help people look for solutions and build self-efficacy based on strengths.

This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to address clinical depression specifically. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: 

  • Older adults
  • People coping with serious illnesses like cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression.

Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns .

In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia , you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern.

Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed.

For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life.

Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology .

If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own.

During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy .

Keep In Mind

Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option.

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Shang P, Cao X, You S, Feng X, Li N, Jia Y. Problem-solving therapy for major depressive disorders in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials .  Aging Clin Exp Res . 2021;33(6):1465-1475. doi:10.1007/s40520-020-01672-3

Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006

Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual . New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001

Owens D, Wright-Hughes A, Graham L, et al. Problem-solving therapy rather than treatment as usual for adults after self-harm: a pragmatic, feasibility, randomised controlled trial (the MIDSHIPS trial) .  Pilot Feasibility Stud . 2020;6:119. doi:10.1186/s40814-020-00668-0

Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial . Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy . 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1

Margolis SA, Osborne P, Gonzalez JS. Problem solving . In: Gellman MD, ed. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine . Springer International Publishing; 2020:1745-1747. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_208

Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults . Int J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358

Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial . Am J Geriatr Psychiatry . 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007

Noyes K, Zapf AL, Depner RM, et al. Problem-solving skills training in adult cancer survivors: Bright IDEAS-AC pilot study .  Cancer Treat Res Commun . 2022;31:100552. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100552

Albert SM, King J, Anderson S, et al. Depression agency-based collaborative: effect of problem-solving therapy on risk of common mental disorders in older adults with home care needs . The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry . 2019;27(6):619-624. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.01.002

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving & Why Is It Important?

Business team using creative problem-solving

  • 01 Feb 2022

One of the biggest hindrances to innovation is complacency—it can be more comfortable to do what you know than venture into the unknown. Business leaders can overcome this barrier by mobilizing creative team members and providing space to innovate.

There are several tools you can use to encourage creativity in the workplace. Creative problem-solving is one of them, which facilitates the development of innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Here’s an overview of creative problem-solving and why it’s important in business.

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What Is Creative Problem-Solving?

Research is necessary when solving a problem. But there are situations where a problem’s specific cause is difficult to pinpoint. This can occur when there’s not enough time to narrow down the problem’s source or there are differing opinions about its root cause.

In such cases, you can use creative problem-solving , which allows you to explore potential solutions regardless of whether a problem has been defined.

Creative problem-solving is less structured than other innovation processes and encourages exploring open-ended solutions. It also focuses on developing new perspectives and fostering creativity in the workplace . Its benefits include:

  • Finding creative solutions to complex problems : User research can insufficiently illustrate a situation’s complexity. While other innovation processes rely on this information, creative problem-solving can yield solutions without it.
  • Adapting to change : Business is constantly changing, and business leaders need to adapt. Creative problem-solving helps overcome unforeseen challenges and find solutions to unconventional problems.
  • Fueling innovation and growth : In addition to solutions, creative problem-solving can spark innovative ideas that drive company growth. These ideas can lead to new product lines, services, or a modified operations structure that improves efficiency.

Design Thinking and Innovation | Uncover creative solutions to your business problems | Learn More

Creative problem-solving is traditionally based on the following key principles :

1. Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Creative problem-solving uses two primary tools to find solutions: divergence and convergence. Divergence generates ideas in response to a problem, while convergence narrows them down to a shortlist. It balances these two practices and turns ideas into concrete solutions.

2. Reframe Problems as Questions

By framing problems as questions, you shift from focusing on obstacles to solutions. This provides the freedom to brainstorm potential ideas.

3. Defer Judgment of Ideas

When brainstorming, it can be natural to reject or accept ideas right away. Yet, immediate judgments interfere with the idea generation process. Even ideas that seem implausible can turn into outstanding innovations upon further exploration and development.

4. Focus on "Yes, And" Instead of "No, But"

Using negative words like "no" discourages creative thinking. Instead, use positive language to build and maintain an environment that fosters the development of creative and innovative ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving and Design Thinking

Whereas creative problem-solving facilitates developing innovative ideas through a less structured workflow, design thinking takes a far more organized approach.

Design thinking is a human-centered, solutions-based process that fosters the ideation and development of solutions. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation , Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-phase framework to explain design thinking.

The four stages are:

The four stages of design thinking: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement

  • Clarify: The clarification stage allows you to empathize with the user and identify problems. Observations and insights are informed by thorough research. Findings are then reframed as problem statements or questions.
  • Ideate: Ideation is the process of coming up with innovative ideas. The divergence of ideas involved with creative problem-solving is a major focus.
  • Develop: In the development stage, ideas evolve into experiments and tests. Ideas converge and are explored through prototyping and open critique.
  • Implement: Implementation involves continuing to test and experiment to refine the solution and encourage its adoption.

Creative problem-solving primarily operates in the ideate phase of design thinking but can be applied to others. This is because design thinking is an iterative process that moves between the stages as ideas are generated and pursued. This is normal and encouraged, as innovation requires exploring multiple ideas.

Creative Problem-Solving Tools

While there are many useful tools in the creative problem-solving process, here are three you should know:

Creating a Problem Story

One way to innovate is by creating a story about a problem to understand how it affects users and what solutions best fit their needs. Here are the steps you need to take to use this tool properly.

1. Identify a UDP

Create a problem story to identify the undesired phenomena (UDP). For example, consider a company that produces printers that overheat. In this case, the UDP is "our printers overheat."

2. Move Forward in Time

To move forward in time, ask: “Why is this a problem?” For example, minor damage could be one result of the machines overheating. In more extreme cases, printers may catch fire. Don't be afraid to create multiple problem stories if you think of more than one UDP.

3. Move Backward in Time

To move backward in time, ask: “What caused this UDP?” If you can't identify the root problem, think about what typically causes the UDP to occur. For the overheating printers, overuse could be a cause.

Following the three-step framework above helps illustrate a clear problem story:

  • The printer is overused.
  • The printer overheats.
  • The printer breaks down.

You can extend the problem story in either direction if you think of additional cause-and-effect relationships.

4. Break the Chains

By this point, you’ll have multiple UDP storylines. Take two that are similar and focus on breaking the chains connecting them. This can be accomplished through inversion or neutralization.

  • Inversion: Inversion changes the relationship between two UDPs so the cause is the same but the effect is the opposite. For example, if the UDP is "the more X happens, the more likely Y is to happen," inversion changes the equation to "the more X happens, the less likely Y is to happen." Using the printer example, inversion would consider: "What if the more a printer is used, the less likely it’s going to overheat?" Innovation requires an open mind. Just because a solution initially seems unlikely doesn't mean it can't be pursued further or spark additional ideas.
  • Neutralization: Neutralization completely eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between X and Y. This changes the above equation to "the more or less X happens has no effect on Y." In the case of the printers, neutralization would rephrase the relationship to "the more or less a printer is used has no effect on whether it overheats."

Even if creating a problem story doesn't provide a solution, it can offer useful context to users’ problems and additional ideas to be explored. Given that divergence is one of the fundamental practices of creative problem-solving, it’s a good idea to incorporate it into each tool you use.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a tool that can be highly effective when guided by the iterative qualities of the design thinking process. It involves openly discussing and debating ideas and topics in a group setting. This facilitates idea generation and exploration as different team members consider the same concept from multiple perspectives.

Hosting brainstorming sessions can result in problems, such as groupthink or social loafing. To combat this, leverage a three-step brainstorming method involving divergence and convergence :

  • Have each group member come up with as many ideas as possible and write them down to ensure the brainstorming session is productive.
  • Continue the divergence of ideas by collectively sharing and exploring each idea as a group. The goal is to create a setting where new ideas are inspired by open discussion.
  • Begin the convergence of ideas by narrowing them down to a few explorable options. There’s no "right number of ideas." Don't be afraid to consider exploring all of them, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Alternate Worlds

The alternate worlds tool is an empathetic approach to creative problem-solving. It encourages you to consider how someone in another world would approach your situation.

For example, if you’re concerned that the printers you produce overheat and catch fire, consider how a different industry would approach the problem. How would an automotive expert solve it? How would a firefighter?

Be creative as you consider and research alternate worlds. The purpose is not to nail down a solution right away but to continue the ideation process through diverging and exploring ideas.

Which HBS Online Entrepreneurship and Innovation Course is Right for You? | Download Your Free Flowchart

Continue Developing Your Skills

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or business leader, learning the ropes of design thinking can be an effective way to build your skills and foster creativity and innovation in any setting.

If you're ready to develop your design thinking and creative problem-solving skills, explore Design Thinking and Innovation , one of our online entrepreneurship and innovation courses. If you aren't sure which course is the right fit, download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

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3.2: Problem Solving Approaches and Interventions

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  • Page ID 43049

  • Vera Kennedy
  • West Hills College Lemoore

There are six problem solving approaches and interventions most commonly used among practitioners. Each approach examines a different aspect of a social problem. The nature of the problem and people involved determines the most appropriate intervention to apply.

A social systems approach examines the social structure surrounding the problem or issue. This approach requires macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis (see pages 12-13) to help understand the structure of the problem and the arrangement of individuals and social groups involved. Analysis requires comprehension of the entire issue and parts associated, as well as, which components and protocols of the structure are independent or dependent of each other. Application of this approach requires grasp of the complete problem including the hierarchy, order, patterns, and boundaries of individuals and social groups including their interactions, relationships, and processes as a body or structure surrounding the issue (Bruhn and Rebach 2007).

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The interventions deployed using a social systems approach focus on establishing and maintaining stability for all parties even while change is occurring. Social system interventions require change agents or leaders such as sociological practitioners to help control and guide inputs (what is put in or taken into the problem) and outputs (what is produced, delivered, or supplied resulting from change) used in problem solving (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). This approach requires the involvement of everyone in the social structure to design or re-design the system and processes around the issue.

The human ecology approach examines the “web of life” or the ecosystem of a social problem or issue. This approach is often visually represented by a spider web to demonstrate how lives are interlinked and interdependent. A human ecology approach focuses on macro and meso levels of analysis to develop knowledge about the social bonds, personal needs, and environmental conditions that impede or support life challenges and opportunities for individuals. Practitioners evaluate and analyze where individuals and groups fit in the social structure or ecosystem and their roles. The purpose of this approach is to identify cognitive and emotional boundaries people experience living in social systems to help confront and remove the obstacles they face.

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Interventions applied in a human ecological approach target changes in families, institutions, and small communities. The goal is to confront the stressors and strain created by social situations and settings. Interventions from a human ecology approach help people determine acceptable behaviors within different social environments (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Practitioners work with social groups to remove collaborative challenges between groups in a social ecosystem and the individuals working and living within them. Change is concentrated on developing a new system and process to support and remove obstacles for individuals effected by a social problem.

  • Describe the social systems approach and explain what type of social problems or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • Describe the human ecology approach and explain what type of social problem or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • A county mental health court
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  • Anti-bullying campaign in local K-12 schools

A life cycle approach examines the developmental stages and experiences of individuals facing issues or various life crises. Meso and micro levels of analysis are required with this method. Data gathered assists practitioners in understanding the adaption of individuals or groups to change, challenges, and demands at each developmental stage of life (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Analysis incorporates evaluation of interpersonal connections between a person and the environment, life transitions, and patterns. This approach if applicable when working with individuals, groups, and organizations, which all have and go through a life cycle and stages of development.

Interventions using this approach target changes in social norms and expectations of individuals or groups facing difficulties. Practitioners help identify the context and issues creating anxiety among individuals or groups and facilitate coping strategies to attack their issues. This approach builds on positive personal and social resources and networks to mend, retrain, or enable development and growth.

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The clinical approach evaluates disease, illness, and distress. Both meso and micro levels of analysis are required for this method. Practitioners assess biological, personal, and environmental connections by surveying the patient or client’s background, and current and recent conditions (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). A Patient Evaluation Grid (PEG) is the most commonly used tool for data collection. This approach requires in-depth interactions with the patient or client to identify themes associated with their condition and the structure of the social system related to their illness and support. When applying this approach in medical practice, the evaluation and analysis leads to a diagnosis.

  • Describe the life cycle approach and explain what type of social problems or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • Describe the clinical approach and explain what type of social problem or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • Policing strategies to reduce crime and improve community relationships
  • Reductions in self-injury or cutting among teens
  • A community college social work education degree program

Intervention in a clinical approach concentrates on removal of symptoms, condition, or changes in the individual to solve the problem. The overarching goal of this method is to prevent the problem from reoccurring and the solution from interfering with the individual’s functioning. Problem management must minimally disrupt the social system of the patient or client.

A social norms approach focuses on peer influences to provide individuals with accurate information and role models to induce change (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). This approach observes macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis. Intervention centers on providing correct perceptions about thinking and behavior to induce change in one’s thoughts and actions. This technique is a proactive prevention model aimed at addressing something from happening or arising.

There are three levels of intervention when applying a social norms approach (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Practitioners use interventions independently or together for a comprehensive solution. At the universal level of intervention , all members of a population receive the intervention without identifying which individuals are at risk. A selective level of intervention directs assistance or services to an entire group of at risk individuals. When specific individuals are beyond risk and already show signs of the problem, they receive an indicated level of intervention . A comprehensive intervention requires an integration of all three levels.

Practitioners assist communities in problem solving by applying a community based approach . All three levels of analysis (macro, meso, and micro) are required for this method. The aim of this approach is to plan, develop, and implement community based interventions whereby local institutions and residents participate in problem solving and work towards preventing future issues. Practitioners work with communities on three outcomes, individual empowerment, connecting people, and improving social interactions and cooperation (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Concentrating on these outcomes builds on community assets while tailoring solutions to local political, economic, and social conditions. By building bridges among individuals and groups in the community, practitioners facilitate connections between services, programs, and policies while attacking the problem from multiple vantage points.

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A community based approach helps ensure problem analysis, evaluation, and interventions are culturally and geographically appropriate for local residents, groups, and organizations. To operate effectively, this intervention requires practitioners to help facilitate face-to-face interactions among community members and develop a communication pattern for solving community problems. To build an appropriate intervention, practitioners must develop knowledge and understanding about the purpose, structure, and process of each group, organization, and collaboration within the community (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Upon implementation, a community based approach endows local residents and organizations to observe and monitor their own progress and solutions directly.

  • Describe the social norms approach and explain what type of social problems or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • Describe the community based approach and explain what type of social problem or issues this approach is the most valid method to use.
  • Human trafficking prevention program
  • Reductions in electronic cigarette, vaping, and new tobacco product usage

Process Evaluation of a Problem-Solving Approach for Analyzing Literacy Practices within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports Framework

  • Original Paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 06 May 2024

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  • Amy Murdoch   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4138-9166 1 ,
  • Julie Q. Morrison 2 &
  • Wendy Strickler 1  

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A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework features a structured problem-solving process and the use of assessment data to develop, identify, and evaluate the impact of instruction and intervention to meet the needs of all students proactively. The purpose of this process evaluation was to examine the implementation of a novel problem-solving approach for analyzing literacy practices across the tiers of an MTSS framework (i.e., core instruction, strategic intervention). The aim of the initiative was to build the capacity of teachers to provide effective instruction based on the science of reading in two elementary schools. The findings from this process evaluation study provide evidence that a problem-solving approach for analyzing literacy practices resulted in improvements in the core curriculum, instruction, and intervention supports. Implications for improvement efforts at the school district and state department of education levels are discussed.

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Data-based decision-making, the problem-solving model, and response to intervention in the minneapolis public schools.

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Research on how children learn to read and why some young learners have difficulty developing as proficient readers has informed the development of evidence-based instructional approaches and interventions to promote reading proficiency. This vast, interdisciplinary body of knowledge is known as the science of reading (The Reading League, 2022 ). The science of reading emphasizes the importance of explicit, systematic, and sequential instruction targeting the five essential components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000 ; Spear-Swerling, 2018 ).

Effective instruction based on the science of reading is beneficial for the approximately 40% of students for whom learning to read with general instruction develops fairly easily, but essential for approximately 60% of students for whom learning to read is more difficult (Foorman et al., 2016 ; National Reading Panel, 2000 ). The majority of these emergent readers do not have a learning disability, but simply require explicit, systematic, and sequential instruction to become proficient readers. The term “instructional casualties” has been used to refer to struggling readers who did not receive adequate, scientifically based reading instruction and consequently risked being misidentified as a student with a learning disability (Lyon et al., 2001 ). The impact on the lives of these young students is devastating. Students who do not develop reading proficiency are more likely to be retained a grade in school, drop out of high school, and enter the juvenile justice system (Fien et al., 2021 ; Reynolds et al., 2002 ).

Decades of dismal reading outcomes indicate that the national educational landscape is strewn with instructional casualties. Only 33% of fourth-grade students performed at or above the proficient level in reading in 2022 (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], 2022 ). This reading crisis is particularly dire among students who are educationally marginalized - in particular, students from diverse racial and ethnic groups, economically disadvantaged students, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Only 19% of fourth-grade students eligible for the National School Lunch Program scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2022 (NAEP, 2022 ). Likewise, only 17% of Black fourth-grade students and 21% of Hispanic students performed at or above the proficient level in reading (NAEP, 2022 ).

Evidence-Based Interventions within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports Framework

An MTSS framework is a systems-level approach to ensuring supports for all students proactively based on academic or behavioral skill need. The core features of an MTSS framework are: (1) universal screening; (2) data-based decision making and problem solving; (3) continuous progress monitoring; (4) a continuum of evidence-based practices across tiers (core instruction with universal support, targeted intervention, and intensive intervention); and (5) a focus on fidelity of implementation (McIntosh & Goodman, 2016 ).

An MTSS framework aims to meet the needs of all students by considering the influence of ecological variables such as instruction, curriculum, and classroom environment on student outcomes. Through the prevention-focused early intervention approach, with an emphasis on effective core instruction and instructional supports through data-based decision making, MTSS facilitates meeting the needs of marginalized students (Albritton et al., 2016 ). Research indicates that an MTSS framework, when implemented with fidelity, holds promise for addressing several key outcomes including (1) increasing student achievement (VanDerHeyden et al., 2007 ); (2) detecting and intervening early with students at risk for academic problems (Al Otaiba & Torgeson, 2007 ); (3) improving the means by which students are determined to be eligible for special education services (Barrett, 2023 ); (4) reducing disproportional representation of minoritized students receiving special education (VanDerHeyden & Witt, 2005 ); and (5) meeting the needs of struggling readers cost-effectively (Morrison et al., 2020 ).

MTSS Reading Implementation Fidelity Challenges

The core components of MTSS need to be implemented fully in an integrated and consistent manner for the positive outcomes to be attained (Keller-Margulis, 2012 ; Noell & Gansle, 2006 , Sanetti & Luh, 2019 ). Yet implementation fidelity can be difficult to achieve because it requires educators to fundamentally change how they support learners not only by advancing their knowledge and skills in scientifically-based reading approaches (Kilpatrick, 2015 ), but also developing their competencies in the timely use of data to inform instructional decision making (Daly et al., 2007 ; Kratochwill et al., 2007 ), and adopting an ecological view of learning by seeking to, “eliminate contextual variables as a viable explanation for academic failure” (Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003 , p. 142).

Many challenges to MTSS implementation have been identified in the research literature (see Table 1 ). The failure to implement evidence-based reading interventions with fidelity is the most frequently recognized limitation (Sanetti & Luh, 2019 ). Reading intervention researchers contend that the evidence-based interventions that produce significant word-reading outcomes (Torgesen et al., 2001 ; Vellutino et al., 1996 ) risk being diluted or dropped within an MTSS framework (Vellutino et al., 2008 ). Furthermore, when MTSS implementation efforts fail to address weaknesses in the core instruction, a high proportion of students may meet the criteria for more intensive intervention resulting in more school resources dedicated to intensive intervention, when the resources may have been more effectively used to improve core instruction (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2017 ).

Increasing MTSS Implementation Fidelity with Training and Coaching

Building teachers’ capacity to provide effective instruction and intervention based on the science of reading within an MTSS framework involves a fundamental shift in how teachers provide reading instruction (Spear-Swerling, 2018 ) and gather, monitor, and respond to reading assessment data (Kratochwill et al., 2007 ). Training alone is insufficient. Research on teacher professional learning has shown that newly learned practices are crude compared to the performance by a master practitioner, fragile in the face of reactions from others, and incomplete when translated to the school setting (Joyce & Showers, 2002 ). As a result, training coupled with ongoing and embedded coaching is essential for promoting competent usage of evidence-based instructional practices (Joyce & Showers, 2002 ). Training and coaching function as critical drivers of implementation (Blase et al., 2013 ; Fixsen et al., 2013 ), but more research is needed on models for training and coaching to promote sustained use of evidence-based reading instruction and intervention within an MTSS framework.

Purpose of the Study

Evidence-based instruction and interventions emerging from the science of reading are key to addressing the needs of struggling readers and closing the opportunity gap for educationally marginalized learners (Fletcher et al., 2004 ). Yet, weak reading intervention fidelity and inconsistent fidelity of implementation of the core components of MTSS have resulted in the proliferation of initiatives that feature only the surface manifestations of an MTSS framework (e.g., sorting students into tiers based on universal screening data) grafted on top of traditional practices and routines not aligned with the science of reading (Hall, 2018 ; Kilpatrick, 2015 ; Sabnis et al., 2020 ). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of an MTSS initiative designed to build the capacity of teachers to provide effective instruction and intervention based on the science of reading. In particular, process evaluation examined the implementation of a novel problem-solving approach for analyzing literacy practices across an MTSS framework (i.e., core instruction and strategic intervention). The Promoting Achievement in Reading Through Needs-driven Evidence-based Reading Structures (PARTNERS) Project aimed to provide comprehensive professional learning (i.e., training and coaching) in a problem-solving approach to examining the tiers of literacy instruction to improve early literacy outcomes for students in kindergarten through second grade. This process evaluation examined teacher team outcomes during the project’s third year of implementation, which focused on strengthening the core reading curriculum and instruction (Tier 1) and strategic intervention (Tier 2). The study addressed the following process evaluation question: To what extent did the PARTNERS Project increase teacher teams’ capacity to analyze and improve the core curriculum and instruction and intervention supports?

The methods used to evaluate the effectiveness of the PARTNERS Project were reviewed by the Institutional Review Board. Data from the LAP-G presented in Figures 1 , 2 and 3 are not publicly available in order to protect teacher participants’ privacy. The data are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. The PARTNERS Project and its evaluation were funded as a Model Demonstration Project by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

figure 1

Results of the Annual Administration of the LAP-G Tier 1 and Tier 2 at Loweland School: K – 2 Teacher Team

figure 2

Results of the Annual Administration of the LAP-G Tier 1 and Tier 2 at St. Mark School: K – 1 Teacher Team

figure 3

Results of the Annual Administration of the LAP-G Tier 1 and Tier 2 at St. Mark School: Grade 2 – 3 Teacher Team

Participants and Setting

Loweland School (a pseudonym) is an elementary school in a public school district classified as Urban-High Student Poverty and Average Student Population according to the state department of education. Loweland School had an enrollment of 278 students in kindergarten through Grade 6, of which 100% were classified economically disadvantaged. In the year prior to the PARTNERS Project, only 21.2% of the third-grade students scored at or above the proficient level on the state-mandated achievement test.

St. Mark School (a pseudonym) is a non-public, Catholic School serving an urban, predominately Hispanic community. St. Mark School had an enrollment of 215 students in preschool through Grade 8, of which 94% were economically disadvantaged. State-mandated achievement test data were not available for non-public schools. However, Acadience screening data collected at the onset of the study indicated that only 25% of the third-grade students were at benchmark for reading at the middle of the year checkpoint. Demographic information for each school’s student population is provided in Table 2 .

Loweland School formed a K – 2 teacher team that consisted of four teachers, an intervention teacher, and the principal. St. Mark School formed two teams, a K – 1 teacher team with eight members, and a grades 2 – 3 teacher team with six members. At St. Mark School, the principal, English Language Learner (ELL) teacher, reading intervention teacher, and the Title I teacher all served on both the K – 1 team and the grades 2 – 3 team. Table 3 provides information regarding the gender, race/ethnicity, years of teaching experience at the start of the PARTNERS Project, and any relevant training each participant had received prior to the start of the PARTNERS Project. Given the opportunity to participate in the PARTNERS Project, all of the participants expressed a willingness to be involved. The teachers were encouraged, but not required, to participate in the project Table 3 .

The PARTNERS Project

The PARTNERS Project provided comprehensive professional learning (i.e., training and coaching) to teams of teachers in a problem-solving, data-driven process whereby they evaluated their own instructional program and identified areas of needed improvement to align with the science of reading. The problem-solving approach was operationalized in the Literacy Analysis and Planning Guide (LAP-G). A description of the LAP-G and the professional learning supports are provided in this section.

Literacy Analysis and Planning Guide Tool

The Literacy Analysis and Planning Guide (LAP-G) provided for an analysis of evidence-based literacy practices across each tier of an MTSS framework (i.e., core instruction, strategic intervention, and intensive intervention). The core components of evidence-based literacy instruction analyzed by the LAP-G process at Tier 1 were (1) Screening; (2) Instructional Materials by Essential Component—Core and Supplemental; (3) Implementation of Tier 1 Instruction; and (4) Differentiated Instruction. The reliability, validity, and comprehensiveness of the school’s screening system was operationalized by 11 items on the LAP-G (see Table 4 ). The second core component pertained to the instructional materials (the core curriculum and supplemental materials) used to address each of the essential components of reading: Phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing (see Table 5 ). Implementation of Tier 1 instruction was the third core component. Six items on the LAP-G operationalize how implementation is assessed through multiple measures (e.g., permanent product review, direct observation) and multiple data sources (see Table 6 ). The fourth core component was differentiated instruction. Seven items on the LAP-G operationalize differentiated instruction (see Table 7 ).

The core components of evidence-based literacy intervention analyzed by the LAP-G process at Tier 2 were (1) Assessments—Intervention-based Diagnostics and Progress monitoring; (2) Instructional Materials for Each Intervention Program; and (3) General Considerations: Effective Intervention Design, Professional Development, Implementation Checks. The core components of evidence-based literacy intervention at Tier 3 were (1) Assessment; (2) Designing Tier 3 Supports—Collaborative Problem Solving, Intervention Components; (3) Effective Implementation of Tier 3 Interventions—Effective Implementation, Appropriate Placement in Tier 3, Professional Learning for Tier 3. A copy of the LAP-G with the core components of evidence-based literacy interventions at Tier 2 and 3 is available upon request to the corresponding author.

The LAP-G engaged a team of educators in a problem-solving process whereby the effectiveness of each tier of instruction/intervention was evaluated. The tool utilizes a five-step collaborative problem-solving process: (1) Define and Analyze Needs: Collect Initial Information; (2) Define and Analyze Needs: Summarize, Analyze, and Prioritize; (3) Plan Support; (4) Implement Plan; and (5) Evaluate. Teams began by documenting and reviewing student data to identify areas of concern with the support of their PARTNERS Project consultant who served as a facilitator. Priority areas of opportunity were then identified and action plans were developed to improve upon current practices (plan development and implementation). The LAP-G process was completed annually in April/May to evaluate progress and determine next steps.

Professional Learning: Training and Coaching

An overview of the scope of the professional learning provided through the PARTNERS Project is presented in Table 8 . At Loweland Elementary, the need for changes in the core curriculum and instructional practices was identified in the first year of PARTNERS Project implementation with its focus on Tier 1 instruction. Teachers participated in training in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) to build foundational understanding of the science of reading. LETRS has been shown by research to be an effective professional development program for reading teachers (Garet et al., 2008 ). Kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Loweland identified a need to focus on supplemental phonics instruction in Tier 1. A review of curriculum aligned with the science of reading and matched to the instructional need resulted in the selection of Superkids. The Superkids Reading Program meets the criteria for which programs can be called evidence-based established by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act ( https://media.zaner-bloser.com/reading/superkids-reading-program/pdfs/R1727_SK_EvidenceforESSA.pdf ). Teachers at Loweland were trained in effective literacy instruction and high-fidelity curriculum implementation in the use of Superkids at the kindergarten, first and second grade levels. Training also included a two-day Summer Institute focused on Superkids and data-based decision making prior to implementation. Due to teacher requests during a monthly teacher team PARTNERS meeting, the Superkids consultant was brought back for a day of modeling lessons and program-specific coaching the following spring.

At St. Mark School, the need to strengthen the core instructional program and use of differentiation in instruction were identified as priorities at the kindergarten and first-grade levels. Teachers participated in training in Language Essentials for Teaching Reading and Spelling (LETRS) to build foundational understanding of the science of reading. Teachers at St. Mark School identified a need to focus on supplemental phonics instruction in Tier 1. Superkids was adopted as the curriculum prior to the start of the PARTNERS Project, but there was a recognized need for additional professional learning. St. Mark School teachers participated alongside Lowland Elementary teachers for the 2-day Summer Institute focused on Superkids and data-based decision making. Kindergarten and first-grade teachers at St. Mark School also participated in ongoing training in the valid and reliable use of Acadience measures beginning in their first year of engagement with the PARTNERS Project. In Year 2, the LAP-G process showed gaps in the phonics instruction with Superkids. The teacher teams reviewed alternative curriculums and selected the 95% Group Phonics Lesson Library. In addition to training in this new curriculum, the teams at St. Mark School focused on writing skills in Years 2-3 and reading comprehension in Year 3. Given that the student population was predominately Hispanic, the PARTNERS Project professional learning included a year-long book study on supporting the early literacy skills of English Language Learners.

At both schools, PARTNERS Project consultants observed teacher instruction and assessed implementation fidelity using a fidelity checklist co-designed with the teachers. Observations were conducted weekly in Years 2 and 3, such that each teacher was observed at least once a month. The collaborative coaching model included individualized performance feedback shared in person or via email following each observation.

Measure and Analysis

The LAP-G tool was developed for use in the PARTNERS Project based on a prototype developed by the first author and colleagues. The development of the LAP-G was informed by an extensive review of the science of reading research and the literature on MTSS. Preliminary content validation was established through expert review. A panel of nine individuals with expertise in the science of reading were asked to review the LAP-G overall and by tier on three dimensions: quality, relevance, and usefulness (QRU). Definitions for QRU were based on the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Special Education Program’s Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) measures (Moore & Lammert, 2019 ). Quality was defined as the degree to which the tool is grounded with current research or policy. On a 10-point scale where 10 represented the highest level of quality, the mean ratings were high for the LAP-G overall ( M = 8.8, SD = 1.28), Tier 1 ( M = 9.0, SD = 1.41), Tier 2 ( M = 9.2, SD = 1.30), and Tier 3 ( M = 9.1, SD = 1.1). Relevance was defined as the degree to which the tool addresses current educational problems or issues. On a 10-point scale where 10 represented the highest level of relevance, the mean ratings were high for the LAP-G overall ( M = 9.1, SD = 1.36), Tier 1 ( M = 9.3, SD = 1.66), Tier 2 ( M = 9.2, SD = 1.64), and Tier 3 ( M = 9.7, SD = 0.7). Usefulness was defined as the degree to which the tool could be readily and successfully used by practitioners (i.e., ease of use, suitability). On a 10-point scale where 10 represented the highest level of usefulness, the mean ratings were high for the LAP-G overall ( M = 9.1, SD = 1.36), Tier 1 ( M = 8.9, SD = 1.62), Tier 2 ( M = 8.9, SD = 1.62), and Tier 3 ( M = 9.1, SD = 1.1). Teacher team members were also asked to complete a survey to assess their perceptions of the Quality, Relevance, and Usefulness of the LAP-G and solicit qualitative data regarding their acceptability of the tool.

In using the LAP-G, teacher teams complete a problem-solving process led by their PARTNERS Project consultant who had a primary role in the development of the tool and served as a coach in this project. The problem-solving process involved an examination of many sources of information including Acadience screening data, assessment schedules, and decision rules for the screening section; sample lesson plans for the Tier 1 section; weekly schedules to examine time allotted for instruction and classroom observation data for the classroom environment section; and sample intervention programs for the Tier 2 section. After reviewing these student screening data and permanent products, each of the core components was scored on a 3-point scale, where 3 represented “Strong evidence/No need to problem solve,” 2 “Mixed or inconsistent evidence/Possible area for problem solving,” and 1 represented “No evidence/An area in need of problem solving.” Many of the LAP-G items included a checklist of essential elements that were required to be evident for a score of a 3 for that core component. The number of possible points for each component was based on the number of items and not the number of essential elements. In the Tier 1 section, the number of possible points for the core components was: Screening (33 points), Instructional Materials by Essential Component – Core and Supplemental (18 points), Implementation of Tier 1 Instruction (18 points), and Differentiated Instruction (21 points). The number of possible points for the Tier 2 section by core component was as follows: Assessments—Intervention-based Diagnostics and Progress Monitoring (30 points), Instructional Materials for Each Intervention Program (12 points), and General Considerations: Effective Intervention Design, Professional Development, Implementation Checks (64 points). Only the Tier 1 and Tier 2 sections had been completed by the teacher teams during the period of time reported on in this study.

Design and Procedures

The evaluation of the PARTNERS Project used descriptive research methods. The LAP-G was completed annually in April/May during the first three years of the project. The results were calculated as the percentage of possible points earned for each of the core components in the Tier 1 section and the Tier 2 sections.

The results of this process evaluation indicate that the PARTNERS Project increased teachers’ capacity to implement key MTSS practices pertaining to reading. Over the course of the first three years of the PARTNERS Project, implementation gains were made at Tier 1 and Tier 2, as measured by the LAP-G.

At Loweland School, Tier 1: Screening remained stable from Year 1 to Year 2 at 81.8% and increased to 87.9% in Year 3. Instructional Materials by Essential Component increased from 63.9% in Year 1 to 83.3% in Years 2 and 3. Implementation of Tier 1 Instruction was more variable with a decrease from 94.4% in Year 1 to 77.8% in Year 2 before a slight increase to 88.9% in Year 3. This dip is attributed to greater teacher understanding of the components of the science of reading leading to more accurate rating of practices in Year 2 relative to Year 1, as well as a possible implementation dip while learning the newly adopted phonics program. Differentiated Instruction saw a steady increase from 42.9% in Year 1 to 61.9% in Year 2 and 69.0% in Year 3.

The Tier 2 section was completed in Years 2 and 3 of the PARTNERS Project at Loweland. Tier 2 Assessments increased from 70.4% in Year 2 to 92.6% in Year 3. Instructional Materials for Each Intervention Program remained stable at 83.3% both years. General Considerations/Implementation increased from 59.5% to 72.6%. Loweland School’s results on the annual administration of the LAP-G are presented graphically in Figure 1 .

The K-1 teacher team at St. Mark School demonstrated marked gains in Tier 1. Tier 1 Screening increased sharply from 39.4% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3. Instructional Materials by Essential Component increased from 33.3% in Year 1 to 86.1% in Year 2 to 100% in Year 3. Implementation of Tier 1 Instruction increased sharply from 44.4% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3. Differentiated Instruction increased from 61.9% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3.

The K – 1 teacher team at St. Mark School also demonstrated marked gains in Tier 2 evidence-based literacy practices. Tier 2 Assessments increased sharply from 33.3% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3. Instructional Materials for Each Intervention Program increased from 33.3% in Year 1 to 91.7% in Year 2 to 100% in Year 3. General Considerations/Implementation increased sharply from 21.9% in Year 1 to 96.9% in Year 2 to 100% in Year 3. Through this process, the K – 1 team focused on increasing the coordination of the interventionists delivering a seamless continuum of supports. St. Mark School’s K – 1 teacher team results are presented graphically in Figure 2 .

The Grade 2 – 3 teacher team at St. Mark School demonstrated similarly positive gains on the annual administration of the LAP-G at Tier 1. Tier 1 Screening increased sharply from 39.4% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3. Instructional Materials by Essential Component increased from 33.3% in Year 1 to 72.2% in Years 2 and 3. Implementation of Tier 1 Instruction increased from 50.0% in Year 1 to 72.2% in Year 2 to 83.3% in Year 3. Differentiated Instruction increased sharply from 52.4% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3.

The Grade 2 – 3 teacher team at St. Mark School also demonstrated marked gains in Tier 2 evidence-based literacy practices. Tier 2 Assessments increased sharply from 33.3% in Year 1 to 100% in Years 2 and 3. Instructional Materials for Each Intervention Program increased from 33.3% in Year 1 to 91.7% in Years 2 to 100% in Year 3. General Considerations/Implementation increased sharply from 21.9% in Year 1 to 96.9% in Year 2 to 100% in Year 3. St. Mark School’s Grade 2 – 3 teacher team results are presented graphically in Figure 3 .

Through this process at St. Mark School, a screening system was installed, the core instruction program at K – 1 was determined to be focused on skills that were too advanced given the students’ actual instructional levels, LETRS training was initiated to increase their knowledge and skills in the science of reading, and both teams focused on small-group differentiated instruction. Mid-year changes in Year 1 were made to the supplemental instructional program at K – 1 when the Acadience benchmark data indicated a stronger focus on phonics was needed.

Qualitative data regarding teachers’ perceptions of the acceptability of the PARTNERS Project and the LAP-G process were gathered from 100% of the teachers on St. Mark’s K – 1 and Grades 2 – 3 teams at the end of their first year of implementation. Teachers’ comments provide additional evidence to support the contribution of the PARTNERS Project on increasing teachers’ capacity to implement key MTSS practices pertaining to reading:

I have high hopes that the LAP-G will do everything that is listed above. I am excited about the progress that has been made this year with the Superkids curriculum and am looking forward to more progress next year!

It provided a systematic way to look at strengths and needs.

Still learning about the LAP-G, but I think it's a wonderful system and learning tool to help promote early literacy inside the classroom and provide the teachers with extra support to see areas of needs.

The teachers’ comments provided at the end of the first year of implementation also highlight the teachers’ recognition that they are still developing their skill fluency and require the scaffolded support of their PARTNERS Project consultant and the sustained investment of their school’s administration.

I believe the LAP-G does a great job at pin-pointing areas of need, which makes it easier to plan ahead and supplement those areas for improvement. However, without the guidance of [PARTNERS Project consultant], I'm not sure how successful I'd be filling it out on my own.

I hope the administration will be able to work with the PARTNERS work to provide instructional materials & training needed to continue the positive direction PARTNERS & our teachers have taken this year!

One only needs to consider the decades of substandard reading outcomes to recognize that we have a national reading crisis. Given that research shows upwards of 95% of all students are capable of becoming proficient readers (Foorman et al., 2003 ; Simos et al., 2002 ; Torgesen, 2007 ), low rates of reading proficiency are indicative of an inadequate core curriculum, instruction, and tiered supports to target student needs. The travesty of instructional casualties is particularly devastating among educationally marginalized students. Whereas children from affluent families can pursue private tutoring to compensate for weaknesses in early literacy instruction, families with fewer financial resources often find their children falling farther behind due to unmet instructional needs.

Advances in the science of reading have produced a robust evidence base for effective curriculum and instruction. MTSS provides a framework within which literacy instruction aligned with the science of reading can be provided to address the needs of students proactively. Fidelity of implementation is essential to realizing the potential of evidence-based instruction delivered within an MTSS framework. However, schools often lack the capacity to implement research-based practices with fidelity. The PARTNERS Project was designed to build the capacity of teachers to strengthen the core reading curriculum, instruction, and tiered intervention supports for students in kindergarten through second grade.

As presented in Table 8 , the PARTNERS Project’s training and coaching supports varied from school to school to meet the unique needs, opportunities, and challenges at each school. A highly engaged and effective principal at St. Mark School committed time and energy to drive PARTNERS Project implementation. As a result, the K – 1 teacher team was able to strengthen phonics instruction at Tier 1 and Tier 2 in the first year of implementation, which enabled them to focus on writing instruction, comprehension, and Tier 3 intervention in the second year of implementation. The lack of continuity of effective, invested leadership at Loweland Elementary created challenges in fostering engagement among the teachers in the PARTNERS Project. These varied experiences of the PARTNERS Project highlight the importance of leadership as a driver of meaningful systems change.

The results of this study provide evidence that a problem-solving process focused on evaluating the core curriculum and instruction and intervention supports based on the science of reading and delivered within an MTSS framework can increase the capacity of teacher teams to implement evidence-based literacy practices. Evidence of the effectiveness of the LAP-G problem-solving process was demonstrated at two elementary schools serving educationally marginalized students. Anecdotal evidence based on the observations of the PARTNERS consultants indicates that teachers gained the knowledge and skills to analyze and improve their reading instruction. Classroom observations showed teachers using the targeted instructional practices, for example replacing word walls with sound walls, directing students to sound out known words instead of guessing, prompting students to retrieve previously learned skills and knowledge such as why a given word (e.g., white) has a long i sound (recalling the “silent e” or “magic e” rule—e makes the vowel say its name). Teachers demonstrated increased knowledge and intention in the questions they would ask, such as why a certain word appeared in the curriculum before the sounds had been taught. Finally, the principal of St. Mark School commented that the teachers are now quick to provide the needed instructional support to help students when the learner first shows signs of struggling, whereas before the PARTNERS Project, special education referral and retention seemed like the only ways of dealing with students who were falling behind.

The findings from this process evaluation are consistent with advances in implementation science, which emphasizes training and coaching as crucial for supporting high-fidelity practices, in sharp contrast to the flawed “train and hope” (Stokes & Baer, 1977 ) approach to professional learning. This study extends the research literature by describing the problem-solving process (focused on evaluating weaknesses in the core curriculum and instruction) and professional learning supports needed to build the capacity for teachers to improve Tier 1 instruction to improve outcomes and prevent instructional casualties.

Limitations of the Study

Several limitations need to be considered when interpreting the results of this study. First, this evaluation employed descriptive research methods to show changes in teachers’ capacity to provide scientifically based reading instruction and intervention based on only one measure, the LAP-G, used with teachers at two schools. Additional research is needed to triangulate these findings and validate the impact of the PARTNERS Project on teachers’ literacy instructional practices and the impact on student reading outcomes across a larger sample of schools.

A second limitation of the evaluative study was the lack of a research-validated instrument for conducting classroom observations of teachers’ instructional practices. As part of the PARTNERS Project, PARTNERS Project consultants observed teacher instruction and assessed implementation fidelity using a fidelity checklist that was developed collaboratively with the teachers based on the targeted instructional practices identified through the LAP-G problem-solving process and focused on in the coaching cycle. In addition, interobserver agreement should have been measured to determine the reliability of the observation data collection. The lack of evidence regarding the reliability and validity of the classroom observation is a limitation of this study.

As a third limitation, in the 3rd year of implementation the PARTNERS Project focused only on strengthening the core reading curriculum and instruction (Tier 1) and targeted intervention (Tier 2). In the 4th year of the project, the focus will extend to intensive intervention (Tier 3). Thus, the outcomes reported represent changes that focused on Tiers 1 and 2 only, an incomplete application of the PARTNERS Project.

A final limitation of the study was the historical threat to validity of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first 2 full years of PARTNERS Project implementation (2020 – 2021 and 2021 – 2022) coincided with significant disruptions to teaching and learning, created by the public health crisis. The demands of physical distancing, health insecurity, financial hardship, and dramatically reduced access for families to school-based instruction, specialized instruction and behavioral health services, and social supports (i.e., school lunch, after-school care) created unprecedented challenges for school communities (Schaffer et al., 2021 ). The positive outcomes attained in 2021 – 2022 through the implementation of the PARTNERS Project focused on Tier 1 instruction are all the more noteworthy for having been achieved during the latter part of the pandemic. Future research should examine the effectiveness of the PARTNERS Project, or a similar initiative, to improve reading instruction in postpandemic conditions.

Implications of the Study

The PARTNERS Project does not assert a single curriculum or instructional program, if selected, will meet the needs of all learners. Just as a functional assessment is needed to develop a hypothesis regarding how and why an individual student is struggling to read (Daly et al., 2005 , 2006 ), an analysis of the instructional environment and resulting learning outcomes is needed to determine specific evidence-based literacy practices to be targeted for improvement. In essence, the LAP-G problem-solving process serves as an autopsy examining the fatal flaws in the core curriculum and instruction and tiered system of interventions resulting in mass instructional casualties.

The PARTNERS Project engages teams of teachers in a problem-solving, data-driven process whereby they evaluate their own instructional program and identify areas of needed improvement to align with the science of reading. With considerable training and coaching, teacher teams can be equipped to shift their efforts to correcting deficits in instruction (rather than exclusively focusing on remediating academic skill deficits in students). The results of this study have significant implications for school districts and state departments of education urgently seeking to align the core curriculum and instruction with the science of reading and prevent instructional casualties among our most educationally marginalized students.

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This research project was funded by a U.S. Department of Education, Office for Special Education Program (OSEP) Model Demonstration Grant for the Early Identification of Students with Dyslexia in Elementary Schools.

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Murdoch, A., Morrison, J.Q. & Strickler, W. Process Evaluation of a Problem-Solving Approach for Analyzing Literacy Practices within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports Framework. Behav. Soc. Iss. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42822-024-00166-5

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