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What is the Problem?
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2012-08-22

      There are many times when Municipal officials don’t want to be the “bad guy.” When faced with situations where they would much rather not be the decision maker, they turn to professionals to perform studies. 

Those studies can be expensive. And, either with taxpayer dollars or via a government grant (which are often tax-payer dollars spread out to more taxpayers) the study is done.
When opting for a study to solve problems officials need to be careful. At the onset, all of those affected should be part of the process. The most important part of solving a problem is defining it and communicating everybody’s understanding of it. Without a proper, clear-cut agreement of the problem definition, the study author goes with what he or she takes from officials. Too often, the study author ends up addressing symptoms of the problem instead of the problem itself.
For instance, the paint is peeling and the floors are withered inside a municipal building so a study is commissioned to recommend the work needed to make the chamber handsome and modern. The work was authorized and done based on the suggestions of the study. However, nobody checked the roof and after the first good rain, the work was ruined and taxpayer money wasted. The problem, as officials saw it, was the inside of the municipal building was unsightly. The symptoms causing the problem were peeling paint, a warped floor and the overlooked condition of the roof.
It’s important to get it right before you start. Defining the problem shouldn’t involve the study author. Only officials and those involved with it. Communicating is the most effective weapon when defining a problem.
Officials may find out that working with the people involved on a clear-cut definition of the problem could lead to a solution that doesn’t require an expensive study. The trouble with “professional” studies is that once the recommendations are in, municipalities often have their hands tied. If they fail to enact any of the recommendations, they expose themselves to future litigation in the event of a failure that the suggestion would have prevented. If they enact any of the recommendations that those affected the most disagree with, they risk making a wrong decision for, possibly, the wrong reason.
You can see how important defining the problem is.
Once the problem is clearly defined and analyzed, suggestions to solve it should be identified. Before any solution is implemented, it should be vetted against the problem; does it solve the problem or just one of the symptoms of the problem. If you don’t address all of the symptoms, the problem will return.
Then select the best solution. Any study should present alternative solutions. If there are none, the report should say so and why there are no alternatives. Any negatives to all of the suggestions must be reported.
Officials, not the study author, must select the best solution. After all, they are the ones who govern the municipality. After a solution is selected it must then be evaluated; does it address all of the symptoms of the problem?
Then a plan of action can be prepared and the solution implemented.
There are times when local officials don’t have the expertise to solve problems and professional studies become necessary. 
But, whether its officials or a consultant, the problem must clearly be defined and communicated before anyone puts pen to paper.

 

 

 

 

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