At Spark Policy Institute, we are dedicated to helping communities and policymakers solve complex problems. The Spark blog will focus on concrete strategies and actions you can take as you seek to make a meaningful difference on issues that are challenging, complicated, and critically important to you and your community.
What are complex problems?
Called “intractable problems” by some, complex problems have a mix of stakeholders at all levels of government, each of whom have different funding sources, mandates, and expectations; these problems also have private stakeholders, consumers, and communities that cannot be left out.
What are some examples?
- As regards the obesity epidemic, finding the policy and individual behavior change solutions that can reduce obesity and its associated illnesses;
- With healthcare access and reform, moving beyond playing politics and into making a difference;
- With water policy in the arid west, finding solutions that balance environmental, agricultural, and population needs;
- Healthy food access and its intersection with transportation infrastructure, water, land-use planning, nutrition education, and schools; and
- Behavioral health and its intersection with all aspects of our lives, from workplace productivity to juvenile justice involvement to physical health outcomes.
Spark’s work is dedicated to the challenge of addressing complex problems such as these, bringing together a combination of research, engagement of all stakeholders, and information dissemination to help find solutions.
What do we know about these complex problems?
We recognize that regardless of which policy arena a problem emerges from, common issues are often present:
- Policy solutions identified in one arena are likely to cause unintended consequences in others;
- Money talks – part of identifying any policy solution is understanding how public and private funding operates, what the limitations are, and where to find opportunities to leverage;
- Sustainable solutions and change in the status-quo are only successful when a wide range of stakeholders are involved in identifying both the problem and the solution; and
- Finding solutions is only the beginning – implementing change is a long, slow process that requires commitment, resources, regular evaluation and feedback, and engagement of all the stakeholders.
How do we solve these complex problems?
As Spark has grown, we have built skills and expertise to tackle complex problems in a wide variety of arenas: human services, health, behavioral health, natural resources, agriculture, housing, juvenile justice, criminal justice, education, early childhood, and diversity / disparities.
The Spark team we have assembled over the years now includes a mixture of:
- Researchers who are adept at working in messy, complex settings and bring a wide variety of methodologies to their work including fiscal and legal research, evaluation, network analysis, q-methodology, focus groups, and many other quantitative and qualitative approaches;
- Facilitators who understand how to inform dialogue with external information and input, and can create a safe environment where all stakeholders, including community members, consumers, and even youth, can participate fully in complex policy dialogues;
- Project managers whose approach reflects the needs of their clients, and who can remain flexible as the policy environment changes; and
- Product developers, who specialize in ensuring reports, white papers, presentations, and other materials are rich in information and attractive in presentation, but more importantly, are committed to making sure no product becomes yet another report that sits on a shelf.
What does a “solution” look like?
Every problem has a different solution, and we know that the solutions that are first tried often fail to address fully all the complexity of the problem. What does a solution look like? There is no single answer – every system is different. Maybe the solution includes changes in how funding is utilized by government agencies. Maybe it includes changes to policies related to access to care. The solution might be about how non-profits mobilize and educate their communities. It may also include new voices having a say in the decision-making process. Sometimes a solution is about changing how existing policies are implemented and sometimes it requires an overhaul of laws and regulations.
Join the Spark Team in our dedication to solving complex problems. What are the issues facing your community? How can you tackle them? Each week, the Spark blog will release new tips, tools, research, and information to help you find those solutions.
Do you have any questions you want answered? Please let us know the topics you want to learn more about!