Creative Problem Solving – Municipal Government Working Smarter
According to an old African proverb, ”When you see an arrow that is not going to miss you, throw out your chest and meet it head on.” Seems a little extreme for government officials, but the message is clear – be ready to confront and deal with problems assertively rather than donning a reflective shield that bounces the problem to someone else.
Each day, elected and appointed officials and internal government professionals are faced with solving problems – for constituents, for the public at large, for other officials, for staff, for the media, for vendors and so on and so on. The list is endless. Municipal government is in the “people business” so there is no getting away from problems -- people and problems go hand-in-hand. Some problems and challenges are more important and have greater impact. To be an effective problem solver, use the S-O-L-V-E approach.
S –State the Problem
To resolve an issue, it’s critical to determine what the problem actually is. As discussions arise, the problem can be hidden or distorted. When looking for resolutions, start by clearly stating the problem. Let’s look at two sample problems.
- Our community lacks adequate recreation fields for the children’s baseball leagues.
- Snow removal equipment is too old and breaks down.
But look again. What is the real problem in the first? That there aren’t enough fields or that baseball teams can’t play when they want to? Is the real issue that the snow removal equipment is too old or that the department is close to overspending it’s budget on repairs? Define the real issue and not just the surface concern.
O – Outline Possible Causes
Dissect the problem and look for all possible causes.. Outline each option as a means of getting to the root of the problem at hand. For example, is the cause of problem number 1 that there aren’t enough fields or that fields need to be scheduled differently? If scheduling is the issue, then a possible response would be to look into schedule games differently or to review how game dates and times are determined.
L – List Alternatives
Be creative in finding alternatives. The best resolution to the problem may not be the most obvious or the most expensive. In problem number 2, old snow removal equipment is breaking down, delaying snow removal and putting the department over budget. The obvious response is to go out to bid on new equipment. But is that what is needed? Look creatively at alternatives and other responses. Could there be a maintenance issue? Perhaps snow removal can be contracted to a vendor. Has the winter been more severe than usual? Is the snow removal team experienced in handling the demand or the equipment? Has a different road treatment caused equipment problems? Is training or re-tooling needed? Often by listing alternatives, small problems are noted that can be address more easily than when they become larger challenges.
V – Visualize Consequences
Visualize various alternatives in place and you’ll start to see possible consequences and end results. When you visualize, you identify things that could easily be missed. For example, envision a baseball game starting at 4PM in the spring. What time does it get dark? Can the team play without lights? Seeing resolutions in action may take you back to the beginning of the process requiring you to define the problem more clearly and to seek and list additional alternatives.
E – Evaluate Results
To implement solutions, start with the most simple solution and progress forward. By evaluating results on an on-going basis, the municipal team of elected and appointed officials, municipal employees, managers, and the public can find resolutions that work and have lasting impact.
As problems confront your municipality, meet those arrows with gusto seeing them as opportunities for service.
By Carole Glade
NJLM Constituent Relations Consultant
Consumer Dynamics International