Problem framing

Making sure you are tackling the right issue.

Integrated research ideally begins with an agreement between all of the parties on what problem you are trying to tackle.

Surely — you might ask, you have expertise in this field, you already know what the right question is. However, because of the complexity of the problems for integrated research, we will never know all of the relevant information, nor be able to see the problem from all the relevant perspectives. Because of this complexity, and the inevitable incomplete view we all have, when we describe what we think the problem is, or why it is important, we are 'framing' it. Some things seem more important to us than others, some things seem related and some opportunities seem clear. But this isn't necessarily the same for others — who may see very different things.

We want to get as good an understanding of the problem as possible to avoid us tackling the wrong thing - and so we need to pay attention to problem framing.

It is important because the way we describe the problem will influence what is researched and the approach that is used, and even the solutions that are envisaged. For example, if you define the problem of excessive drainage on farm as a problem of efficiency and lack of knowledge about using efficient water application methods, you will undertake a vastly different piece of research from if you frame the same problem of excessive drainage as a result of wrong land use occurring on wrong soil, or faulty land use policies.

There are several elements of framing that can be useful to consider from a range of perspectives. In their book on enhancing science impact Leith et al describe the elements of framing with an example (.docx). This can be used as a template, to allow different people to describe the problem as they see it.

This short video describes why problem framing is important.

Problem framing overview, UTS Software Engineering

More information

Leith, P., O'Toole, K., Haward, M., Coffey, B. 2017. Enhancing Science Impact. Bridging research, policy and practice for sustainability. CSIRO Publishing.

You might also be interested in...