A clear problem statement leads to better focus and goals

If you are able to define a clear problem statement, this will help you in identifying more appropriate goals, focus and instruments for your project. This might sound trivial, but many projects target a problem that is not meaningful to the target group and will therefore encounter problems in actually changing the behaviour of that target group. For example, although your goal might be to cut emissions of an apartment building, the actual problem causing the emissions might be that the apartment building is badly maintained. This bad maintenance is thus the real problem you need to tackle to reach your ulterior goals. When you have understood what the problem is that you need to tackle and in particular what it’s causes are, you can devise solutions for that problem. A tool to help you identify the relevant problem and its causes is the problem tree.

The solution you provide might not address the problem directly, but through the removal of the cause for the problem the goal might be reached. To summarise, when you know your goals (what problems and causes to solve), than you can select the right means and approach (the right people, the right timing, and the right tools for engaging with your target group). An additional benefit of a clear problem statement and accompanying clear goals is that you know what the conditions at the start of your project were and thus during the project you can monitor and measure how close you are to reaching your goals and in the end you can evaluate whether you have met your goals and thus were able to solve the problem. Quantifiable goals are easy to monitor and assess, but qualitative goals such as increased sense of comfort can also be measured.

Practical examples

Below are some examples from our case studies, where projects have identified a problem and developed sensible ways to address it. 

Problem: The apartment blocks were poorly maintained because of which they were energy inefficient
Causes of the problem: The blocks were so poorly maintained because the tenants were poor and therefore could not afford to renovate them. In addition the tenants did not possess the know how and found it difficult to take action.
Solutions: The solutions therefore focuses on providing technical and financial know-how and support and supported the tenants' community in taking the actions.

Problem: The targeted offices wanted to be more socially and environmentally responsible.
Causes of problem: The office managers were not so much motivated by potential savings of energy costs. Their willingness to greening the office was hampered by a lack of know-how about the technical possibilities, but even more by a lack of appropriate simple solutions.   
Solutions: The solution was found in providing a simple certification system, accompanied with a network for offices to exchange experiences, and set and measure targets.

Problem: The problem that this programme wanted to target was the use of wasteful light bulbs and the rejection of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) by both retailers and consumers.
Causes of the problem: The reasons for the retailers and consumers to reject CFLs was that the quality of the CFLs was questioned, in particular their lighting equivalent compared to traditional light bulbs.
Solution: The solutions to this problem and its causes was found in a combination of creating a campaign to promote CFLs and at the same time developing and (with the retailers) disseminating a quality charter.