Collaborative Problem Solving

Generate Options


Identify and analyze a range of alternative strategies for addressing a problem or taking advantage of an opportunity.

The goal of this stage is to generate a range of alternative strategies that can be analyzed with available resources and which leave no viable strategies unexamined. The practical challenge is to encourage participants to suppress their immediate reactions to proposed strategies so that creative ideas can flow freely. The bigger challenge is to determine how comprehensive to make the list, as there are almost never enough resources to examine all of the strategies that might be suggested.

Credible analysis of how each strategy might impact the problem or opportunity is what ultimately allows each stakeholder to make an informed evaluation. Outside experts or specialists are called upon when proposed strategies require detailed technical analysis.

At the end of this stage, participants should feel that the most relevant strategies have been identified and the analysis of impacts of individual strategies is credible. The process requires a high level of thoroughness in order for members of the group to regard both the proposed list of strategies and the technical analysis as legitimate and complete.

Separate idea generation from idea evaluation.

Identify strategies for addressing the primary causes of the problem identified in the previous stage.

  • Examine reports, testimony of technical experts, strategies used for similar problems elsewhere, and other resources that help identify possible strategies.
  • Design a process in which group participants can identify and list possible strategies.

Analyze the primary impacts of each strategy on the problem.

  • Identify critical impacts to be analyzed.
  • Organize technical analysis in ways that ensure credibility to group participants.

There is uncertainty about the definition of the problem.
As participants start to generate strategies, one or more individuals may begin to express reservations about the task, even asking if the group is working on the wrong causal factor. One response is to pause, review how the group arrived at the current stage of the work, and discuss process options until there is consensus about whether to continue or alter the process.

The list of strategies is too comprehensive.
It is sometimes possible to reduce the number of strategies by combining similar ones or subsuming specific strategies under more general categories. It is also possible to carefully sort the strategies—using criteria such as cost, ease of implementation, or timeliness—to ensure that no potentially useful strategies are eliminated from the list.

Strategies are at multiple levels of generality.
Sometimes strategies expressed at different levels of generality can be grouped together without loss of meaning. At other times, a specific strategy can be expressed as one of a suite of activities under a more general heading that, taken together, would effectively address the problem.

Premature closure may occur.
Premature closure may occur because some participants are in a hurry to complete the task. The process leader can encourage the group to continue, “Just to make sure that there are no more creative ideas.” If that fails, beginning a more detailed analysis of the impact of the proposed strategy on the problem may be a way of testing the strategy and the group’s commitment to it.

Conflict arises over the credibility of the list of strategies.
Conflict over the results of the analysis can be reduced by careful structuring of the analytic process prior to the commissioning of any studies. First, participants should reach agreement about what questions they expect the analyst to answer. Second, they should agree on the types of data and analysis they would regard as credible. If, after efforts have been made, the results are still not regarded as credible, it may sometimes be possible for the group to rely on an expert or panel of experts to agree on a strategy for re-analysis—provided the conflict is really about the quality of the analysis and not simply an ideological issue.

Related Examples

Related Tools/Resources

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