Before you can begin changing a problem, you must be able to define and describe it. The first step to changing a problem is to understand the problem. Therefore, it is crucial that you develop a problem statement for your issue. In the field of public health, a problem statement is treated as an elevator pitch: what would you say about your cause in the timespan allotted to an elevator ride?
A problem statement succinctly and clearly describes what the problem/shortcoming is. Do not include or allude to a solution in your problem statement. Only describe the flaws here.
Check out the CDC’s advice on how to write a problem description: https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/cdcynergy/problemdescription.html. The problem description clarifies what the public health problem is, who is affected, and what you propose to do to address it (CDC, 2010)
To frame your single-sentence problem statement, refer to the journalistic 5 “Ws”:
- Define the affected population. Describe them, their age, race, socioeconomic status, etc.
- Clarify the persisting problem and its extent/reach. How many? This is where you need recent data.
- How long has this trend been persisting? Is it a recent phenomena caused by something else, or the status quo that you suggest we simply must stop accepting?
- Where is this happening? Provide the geographic location, or maybe it’s online in certain communities. Describe it.
- With technology these days, GIS (Geographical information systems) and mapping are amazing illustrative tools.
- Why…should we care?
- This is the “so what?” portion of your statement. In a traditional problem statement for research purposes, you often may find this piece missing. However, in advocacy, it is important to drive the point home. SO WHAT? What happens if we allow this trend to persist and not interfere? What does all the data and your problem statement infer for the future? Why is it important for your audience (perhaps voters or legislators) to care and therefore, take action?