Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by the heading of this post. I’m good at finding problems! But Problem Finding isn’t about complaining.
Ewan McIntosh spoke at TEDx London in September about re-framing the way learners engage with problems.
Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.
Learning doesn’t only happen in school. Young people learn in many contexts and it seems to me that Problem Finding seems to me to be at the heart of informal education. It’s Friere’s ‘conscientization’, naming your world and taking action to change it.
Problem Finding changes the focus. Using the ‘design process’ Ewan shows that ‘teachers’ traditionally do all the hard work at the start of the process in the ‘understand’ and ‘observe’ phases.
Answering a question no one is asking is a charge that has been levelled at the church for too long. That’s because we do the first two stages of the ‘design process’ for people. The church ‘understands’ and ‘observes’ the world and then frames a worldview and presents it to people rather than enabling people to ‘name’ their world and then engage with them, bringing the rich resources of two thousand years of thought to support that exploration.
In worship we (and I’m talking about me too) deliver lectures to people every Sunday about things they have no input into, and probably little interest in!
In youth work we too often assume that drugs and sex are the most important things in a 15 year old’s life. They well might be for some but our response is too often to tell them what they should think about that.
How about something different?
In the classrooms in which I work, students explore the twenty or so themes upon which our planet really depends, immerse themselves in the ideas and information their teachers, peers and whole communities can impart, find the problems they feel are worth solving, theorise which ones will work and then try them out in a prototype. In their world, we don’t just write an essay or create yet another wiki or blog to describe what our idea is, but we actually build the solution to the problem with our own hands
Problem Finding means letting go of our agendas, of our issues and our priorities and engaging young people in exploring and engaging with their world by naming their problems and working to find their solutions.
Youth work has to be about resourcing that journey. Church has to be about resourcing that journey.
I’m really interested in applying ‘Problem Finding’ and ‘design thinking’ to youth work. What do you think?