Problem Solving and Decision Making Techniques
Improving individuals' and groups' abilities to solve problems and make decisions is recognized as an important issue in education, industry, and government.
Problem solving is a process in which we perceive and resolve a gap between a present situation and a desired goal, with the path to the goal blocked by known or unknown obstacles. In general, the situation is one not previously encountered, or where at least a specific solution from past experiences is not known. In contrast, decision making is a selection process where one of two or more possible solutions is chosen to reach a desired goal.
Most models of problem solving and decision making include at least four phases:
1) An Input phase in which a problem is perceived and an attempt is made to understand the situation or problem;
2) A Processing phase in which alternatives are generated and evaluated and a solution is selected;
3) An Output phase which includes planning for and implementing the solution; and
4) A Review phase in which the solution is evaluated and modifications are made, if necessary.
The following techniques focus more on logic and critical thinking, especially within the context of applying the scientific approach:
B. Backwards planning
D. Challenging assumptions
F. Inductive/deductive reasoning
G. Thinking aloud
H. Network analysis
I. Plus-Minus-Interesting (PMI)
J. Task analysis
The following problem-solving techniques focus more on creative, lateral, or divergent thinking:
D. Outcome psychodrama
E. Outrageous provocation
G. Random word technique
J. Taking another's perspective
K. Values clarification
Integrating Techniques into the Problem-Solving Process
The problem-solving techniques discussed above are most powerful when combined to activate both the logical/rational and intuitive/creative parts of the brain.
In general, there is a need to develop and use a problem-solving/decision-making process that is both scientific and considerate of individual differences and viewpoints. While the scientific process has provided a method used successfully in a wide variety of situations, researchers have described individual differences that can influence perspectives and goals related to problem solving.