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Social Sci LibreTexts

3.1: Interventions and Problem Solving

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  • Page ID 43048

  • Vera Kennedy
  • West Hills College Lemoore

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Social issues impair social functioning and negatively impact the lives of individuals, groups, and organizations (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). People effected by a particular social issue may face a variety of obstacles and challenges associated with the problem including labeling, stigma, discrimination, and isolation. Sociological practitioners work to address the problem by changing the social setting, arrangement, norms, and behaviors surrounding the issue and the people involved. A sociological practitioner may serve as the facilitator of this social change, a broker by acting on the behalf of others for change, or a clinician by providing direct services or help to change the situation of individuals and families.

There are six approaches most commonly used by sociological and other professional practitioners, communities, and clients to address social problems and create change. To resolve or improve situations, different problems require different approaches based on the client needs and social resources available to them. Each sociological approach incorporates a different level of analysis to assess the problem with a specific focal area of intervention. When social change requires different levels of analysis, sociological approaches must identify and explore multiple solutions across continuums. Not all approaches result in an expeditious solution. Sociological approaches and interventions take planning and time to implement and can take years to gain permanent change or improve people’s lives.

Process of Intervention

Regardless of approach, sociologists follow an incremental process of intervention to remedy a social problem. Each sociological approach includes a process of intervention that includes an assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation phase. There are no timelines of completion defined within each phase. Rather the sociological practitioner, clients, and other impacted individuals or groups set deadlines and completion parameters based on context and need.

The first phase examines the social problem and needs of those it impairs. This is an investigative stage to gather information and understand the situation to define the problem (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). A sociological practitioner must first identify the presenting problem and client(s). The presenting problem refers to the client’s perspective of the problem as they see it in their own words (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). The assessment is a discovery phase of the history and evolution of the problem within the geographic region to find out who is seeking help and why. The assessment also helps determine the role or involvement of the sociological practitioner in the intervention.

An assessment is a case study guided by the nature of the problem and clients (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Data collection may include interviews, focus groups, surveys, and secondary analysis (e.g., analytic data, educational records, criminal records, medical files, etc.). Findings and results are presented and discussed with clients and other involved parties to formulate solutions and objectives of intervention.

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The next stage in the process is to plan the steps for achieving intervention objectives. The plan is a formal (written) agreement among interventionists (including the sociological practitioner) and client(s) outlining the objectives and roles and responsibilities of each person involved. The plan will include observable, measurable objectives that include: 1) subject and verb stating the condition to achieve, 2) amount or percentage of reduction or improvement of the condition, and 3) timeframe or deadline for completion (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Both process and outcome objectives must be delineated in the plan. Process objectives will focus on program operations or services, and outcome objectives concentrate on the results of the intervention against baseline data (i.e., data collected prior to intervention). Interventionists and clients work together to develop a plan so everyone has an equal voice and understanding of their duties, obligations, and work to complete in the implementation phase.

Consider a social problem you would like to address in your community. Conduct secondary analysis of the issue to identify the presenting problem, clientele, and existing community services. Explore nonprofit and public agencies in your community working on the problem you chose to help you gather information.

After completing your analysis, draft four observable, measurable objectives of intervention for the problem and population you wish to address. Two objectives must focus on process and two on outcomes. All outcomes must include a verb and subject stating the condition to achieve, amount or percentage of reduction or improvement of the condition, and timeframe or deadline for completion.

The third phase in the process centers on implementation. In this stage, the plan commences according to the steps outlined in the formal agreement. Implementation puts the plan into action by following the proposed sequence and schedule. This phase engages strategies in order to accomplish objectives. For example, solving chronic poverty in your community might require employing several strategies such as improving K-12 education, increasing higher education enrollments and job skills training, providing access to health care, and developing employment opportunities. During the implementation phase, interventionists and collaborators will initiate and work on each strategy for change.

The final phase in the process of intervention is evaluation. Sociologists use evaluation to find out if a program, service, or intervention works (Steele and Price 2008). There are two types of evaluation. A process or formative evaluation gathers information to help improve or change a program, service, or intervention. Did everything occur and work according to plan? Sociological practitioners work with clients to determine program strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement to strengthen or adapt the program (Steele and Price 2008). An outcome or summative evaluation measures the impact of the program, service, or intervention on clients or participants. Were benchmarks achieved or changes made? Practitioners measure changes in clients over the duration of their participation from start to completion. The impact evaluation determines if change occurred, any unintended outcomes, and the long-term effects.

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Evaluation is an ongoing task tracking program progress from beginning to end (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Interventionists and practitioners must monitor the program continuously to ensure the service or intervention is advancing toward change, and adjustments or alternatives are deployed to increase effectiveness in a timely manner. The goal of evaluation is to know why a program, service, or intervention succeeded or failed to reform or adapt present and future support and solutions. Evaluation is a mechanism of continual improvement by regularly providing information and identifying unintended consequences.

Evaluation requires both quantitative and qualitative data (see page 5) using a variety of data collection methods and tools to gather information (e.g., tests, questionnaires, archival data, etc.). Data collection tools vary from program to program, sometimes tools exist to conduct an evaluation, and other times practitioners must develop them (Viola and McMahon 2010). Practitioners lead in the development of data collection protocols, tools, and instruments for review by participants (e.g., clients and community members) before they are ready to use.

As a contributing member of an evaluation team, sociological practitioners (see page 3) must be aware of role-conflict . It is imperative to avoid role-conflict in a participatory evaluation model. In other words, practitioners must be aware of their role within the evaluative context or situation as to whether one is serving as a researcher, practitioner, or interventionist (i.e., clinical sociologist). It is difficult to implement the scientific method (process and procedures) in the field within the standards of academic research when serving as a practitioner (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). Sociological practitioners or interventionists do not always have control over the evaluation research, study environment, or time to complete an evaluative study as prescribed by the scientific method.

The Workforce Internship Networking (WIN) Center at West Hill College Lemoore in California connects and supports students and alumni by providing employment, occupational readiness, and job placement information and resources to advance personal career goals. The WIN Center provides a space for employers and students to connect. At the WIN Center, students and alumni receive skills training, employment and internship application assistance, and support in creating a professional profile.

  • Describe why it might be important to evaluate the WIN Center.
  • Considering the importance of evaluating college campus programs, how often would you recommend evaluating the WIN Center’s programs and services? What should the evaluation examine?
  • What role could program monitoring play in the overall evaluation of the WIN Center?
  • If you were responsible for overseeing program monitoring and the evaluation of the WIN Center, what data would you collect to assess its impact?

In addition, evaluations may cause tension between practitioners (interventionists) and evaluation associates. Interventionists are responsible for providing data and keeping records while implementing program activities. Conflicting demands for an interventionists’ time and energy during the program implementation process may lead to a delay in gathering and sharing data with evaluators. Evaluation is not always equally valued, and some interventionists may consider evaluation unimportant or a threat to their work or process resulting in uncooperative behavior or interest.

Problem-Solving Theory: The Task-Centred Model

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online: 12 April 2022
  • Cite this living reference work entry

intervention and problem solving goals

  • Blanca M. Ramos 5 &
  • Randall L. Stetson 6  

Part of the book series: Social Work ((SOWO))

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This chapter examines the task-centred model to illustrate the application of problem-solving theory for social work intervention. First, it provides a brief description of the problem-solving model. Its historical development and key principles and concepts are presented. Next, the chapter offers a general overview of the crisis intervention model. The task-centred model and crisis intervention share principles and methods drawn from problem-solving theory. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the task-centred model. It reviews its historical background, viability as a framework for social work generalist practice, as well as its applicability with diverse client populations and across cultural settings. The structured steps that guide task-centred implementation throughout the helping process are described. A brief critical review of the model’s strengths and limitations is provided. The chapter concludes with a brief summary and some closing thoughts.

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Ramos, B.M., Stetson, R.L. (2022). Problem-Solving Theory: The Task-Centred Model. In: Hölscher, D., Hugman, R., McAuliffe, D. (eds) Social Work Theory and Ethics. Social Work. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-3059-0_9-1

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-3059-0_9-1

Received : 24 December 2021

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Published : 12 April 2022

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Online ISBN : 978-981-16-3059-0

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7. Developing an Intervention

This toolkit provides supports for developing core components of a community intervention and adapting them to fit the context.

  • Statement of the community problem/goal to be addressed
  • Specific behaviors of whom that need to change
  • Improvements in community-level outcomes that should result   Related resources : Proclaiming Your Dream: Developing Vision and Mission Statements Creating Objectives  
  • Direct observation of the problem or goal
  • Conducting behavioral surveys
  • Interviewing key people in the community
  • Reviewing archival or existing records   Related resources : Developing a Plan for Identifying Local Needs and Resources Collecting Information About the Problem Conducting Surveys Conducting Interviews Using Public Records and Archival Data  
  • Targets of change or prioritized groups for whom behaviors or outcomes should change
  • Agents of change or those implementing the intervention   Related resources : Identifying Targets and Agents of Change: Who Can Benefit and Who Can Help  
  • Personal contacts - Who will you speak with about what?
  • Interviews - What questions will you ask of whom about the problem or goal and possible interventions?
  • Focus groups - From what groups will you seek what kinds of information?
  • Community forums - What public situations would present an opportunity for you to discuss the problem or goal, and how will you use the opportunity?
  • Concerns surveys - What questions of whom will you ask about the problem or goal and potential solutions?   Related resources : An Introduction to the Problem Solving Process Analyzing Root Causes of Problems The "But Why?" Technique Conducting Interviews Conducting Focus Groups Conducting Public Forums and Listening Sessions Conducting Concerns Surveys  
  • Those for whom the current situation is a problem. Who is affected by the issue, problem, or goal?
  • The negative (positive) consequences for those directly affected and the broader community. What effect does the problem or issue have on the lives of those affected?
  • Personal and environmental factors to be influenced (i.e., people's experience and history; knowledge and skills; barriers and opportunities; social support and caring relationships; living conditions that put them at risk for or protect them from experiencing certain problems).
  • The behavior or lack of behavior that causes or maintains the problem. What behaviors of whom would need to change for the problem (or goal) to be eliminated (addressed).
  • Who benefits and how from the situation staying the same (economically, politically).
  • The conditions that need to change for the issue to be resolved (e.g., skills, opportunities, financial resources, trusting relationships).
  • The appropriate level at which the problem or goal should be addressed (e.g., by individuals, families, neighborhoods, city or county government), and whether the organization has the capacity to influence such changes).   Related resources : Defining and Analyzing the Problem Collecting Information About the Problem Identifying Targets and Agents of Change: Who Can Benefit and Who Can Help Understanding Risk and Protective Factors: Their Use in Selecting Potential Targets and Promising Strategies for Interventions Identifying Strategies and Tactics for Reducing Risks Creating Objectives  
  • A description of what success would look like. How will the community or group be different if the intervention is successful?
  • Those goals the intervention is targeted to accomplish. How will you know if your intervention is successful?
  • The specific objectives the intervention will achieve. What will change by how much and by when?   Related resources : Creating Objectives  
  • Potential or promising “best practices” for your situation (consider various available databases and lists of “best” or evidence-based practices)
  • How strong is the evidence that each potential “best practice” caused the observed improvement? (Rather than other associated conditions or potential influences)
  • Whether the “best practice” could achieve the desired results in your community
  • Whether the conditions (e.g., time, money, people, technical assistance) that affect success for the “best practice” are present
  • (Based on the assessment) The “best practice” or evidence-based approach to be tried in your situation (Note: If no “best practices” are known or appropriate to your situation, follow the steps below to design or adapt another intervention.)   Related resources : Generating and Choosing Solutions Criteria for Choosing Promising Practices and Community Interventions  
  • Providing information and enhancing skills (e.g., conduct a public information campaign to educate people about the problem or goal and how to address it)
  • Modifying access, barriers, exposures, and opportunities (e.g., increase availability of affordable childcare for those entering work force; reduce exposures to stressors)
  • Enhancing services and supports (e.g., increase the number of centers that provide health care)
  • Changing the consequences (e.g., provide incentives to develop housing in low-income areas)
  • Modifying policies and broader systems (e.g., change business or public policies to address the goal)   Related resources : Creating Objectives Developing an Action Plan Providing Information and Enhancing Skills Modifying Access, Barriers, and Opportunities Changing the Physical and Social Environment Enhancing Support, Incentives, and Resources Changing Policies  
  • Identify the mode of delivery through which each component and element of the intervention will be delivered in the community (e.g., workshops for skill training).   Related resources : Developing an Action Plan Putting Your Solution into Practice  
  • Indicate how you will adapt the intervention or "best practice" to fit the needs and context of your community (e.g., differences in resources, cultural values, competence, language).   Related resources : Adapting Community Interventions for Different Cultures and Communities Designing Community Interventions    
  • What specific change or aspect of the intervention will occur?
  • Who will carry it out?
  • When the intervention will be implemented or how long it will be maintained?
  • Resources (money and staff) needed/ available?
  • Who should know what about this?   Related resources : Developing an Action Plan  
  • Test the intervention and with whom
  • Assess the quality of implementation of the intervention
  • Assess results and consequences or side effects
  • Collect and use feedback to adapt and improve the intervention  
  • Implement the intervention, and monitor and evaluate the process (e.g., quality of implementation, satisfaction) and outcomes (e.g., attainment of objectives).   Related resources : A Framework for Program Evaluation: A Gateway to the Tools  

22 Best Counseling Interventions & Strategies for Therapists

Counseling Interventions

Counseling is highly beneficial, with “far-reaching effects in life functioning” (Cochran & Cochran, 2015, p. 7).

While therapeutic relationships are vital to a positive outcome, so too are the selection and use of psychological interventions targeting the clients’ capability, opportunity, motivation, and behavior (Michie et al., 2014).

This article introduces some of the best interventions while identifying the situations where they are likely to create value for the client, helping their journey toward meaningful, value-driven goals.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

What is a counseling intervention, list of popular therapeutic interventions, how to craft a treatment plan 101, 13 helpful therapy strategies, interventions & strategies for career counseling, 2 best interventions for group counselors, resources from positivepsychology.com, a take-home message.

“Changing ingrained behavior patterns can be challenging” and must avoid or at least reduce the risk of reverting (Michie et al., 2014, p. 11).

The American Psychological Association (n.d., para. 1) describes an intervention as “any action intended to interfere with and stop or modify a process, as in treatment undertaken to halt, manage, or alter the course of the pathological process of a disease or disorder.”

Interventions are intentional behaviors or “change strategies” introduced by the counselor to help clients implement problem management and move toward goals (Nelson-Jones, 2014):

  • Counselor-centered interventions are where the counselor does something to or for the client, such as providing advice.
  • Client-centered interventions empower the client, helping them develop their capacity to intervene in their own problems (for example, monitoring and replacing unhelpful thinking).

Creating or choosing the most appropriate intervention requires a thorough assessment of the client’s behavioral targets, what is needed, and how best to achieve them (Michie et al., 2014).

The selection of the intervention is guided by the:

  • Nature of the problem
  • Therapeutic orientation of the counselor
  • Willingness and ability of the client to proceed

During counseling, various interventions are likely to be needed at different times. For that reason, counselors will require a broad range of techniques that fit the client’s needs, values, and culture (Corey, 2013).

In recent years, an increased focus has been on the use of evidence-based practice, where the choice and use of interventions is based on the best available research to make a difference in the lives of clients (Corey, 2013).

Popular Therapeutic Interventions

“Clients are hypothesis makers and testers” who have the reflective capacity to think about how they think (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 261).

Helping clients attend to their thoughts and learn how to instruct themselves more effectively can help them break repetitive patterns of insufficiently strong mind skills while positively influencing their feelings.

The following list includes some of the most popular interventions used in a variety of therapeutic settings (modified from Magyar-Moe et al., 2015; Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2015; Cochran & Cochran, 2015; Corey, 2013):

Detecting and disputing demanding rules

Rigid, demanding thinking is identified by ‘musts,’ ‘oughts,’ and ‘shoulds’ and is usually unhelpful to the client.

For example:

I must do well in this test, or I am useless. People must treat me in the way I want; otherwise, they are awful.

Clients can be helped to dispute such thinking using “reason, logic, and facts to support, negate or amend their rules” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 265).

Such interventions include:

  • Functional disputing Pointing out to clients that their thinking may stand in the way of achieving their goals
  • Empirical disputing Encouraging clients to evaluate the facts behind their thoughts
  • Logical disputing Highlighting the illogical jumps in their thinking from preferences to demands
  • Philosophical disputing Exploring clients’ meaning and satisfaction outside of life issues

Identifying automatic perceptions

Our perceptions greatly influence how we think. Clients can benefit from recognizing they have choices in how they perceive things and avoiding jumping to conclusions.

  • Creating self-talk Self-talk can be helpful for most clients and can target anger management, stress handling, and improving confidence. For example:

This is not the end of the world. I’ve done this before; I can do it well again.

  • Creating visual perceptions Building on the client’s existing visual images can be helpful in understanding and working through problematic situations (and their solutions).

One simple exercise to help clients see the strong relationship between visualizing and feeling involves asking clients to think of someone they love. Almost always, they form a mental image along with a host of feelings.

Visual relaxation is a powerful self-helping skill involving clients taking time out of their busy life to find calm through vividly picturing a real or imagined relaxing scene.

Creating better expectations

Clients’ explanatory styles (such as expecting to fail) can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Interventions can help by:

  • Assessing the likelihood of risks or rewards
  • Increasing confidence in the potential for success
  • Identifying coping skills and support factors
  • Time projection Imagery can help by enabling the client to step into a possible future where they manage and overcome difficult times or worrying situations.

For example, the client can imagine rolling forward to a time when they are successful in a new role at work or a developing relationship.

Creating realistic goals

Goals can motivate clients to improve performance and transition from where they are now to where they would like to be. However, it is essential to make sure they are realistic, or they risk causing undue pressure and compromising wellbeing.

The following interventions can help (Nelson-Jones, 2014):

  • Stating clear goals The following questions are helpful when clients are setting goals :

Does the goal reflect your values? Is the goal realistic and achievable? Is the goal specific? Is the goal measurable? Does the goal have a timeframe?

Helping clients to experience feelings

Counseling can influence clients’ emotions and their physical reactions to emotions by helping them (Nelson-Jones, 2014):

  • Experience feelings
  • Express feelings
  • Manage feelings
  • Empty chair dialogue This practical intervention involves the client engaging in an imaginary conversation with another person; it helps “clients experience feelings both of unresolved anger and also of weakness and victimization” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 347).

The client may be asked to shift to the empty chair and play the other person’s part to explore conflict, interactions, and emotions more fully (Corey, 2013).

intervention and problem solving goals

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“Counselors and counseling trainees make choices both concerning specific interventions and about interventions used in combination” (Nelson-Jones, 2014, p. 223).

Through early and continued engagement with the client throughout the counseling approach , the counselor and client set specific, measurable, and achievable goals and create a treatment plan with a defined intervention strategy (Dobson, 2010).

The treatment plan becomes a map, combining interventions to reach client goals and overcome problems – to get from where they are now to where they want to be. However, no plan should be too fixed or risk preventing the client’s progress in their ‘wished-for’ direction. Rather, it must be open for regular revisit and modification (Nelson-Jones, 2014).

Counseling and therapeutic treatment plans vary according to the approaches used and the client’s specific needs but should be strength-based and collaborative. Most treatment plans typically consider the following points (modified from GoodTherapy, 2019):

  • History and assessment – E.g., psychosocial history, symptom onset, past and present diagnoses, and treatment history
  • Present concerns – The current concerns and issues that led the client to counseling
  • Counseling contract – A summary of goals and desired changes, responsibility, and the counseling approach adopted
  • Summary of strengths – It can be helpful to summarize the client’s strengths, empowering them for goal achievement.
  • Goals – Measurable treatment goals are vital to the treatment plan.
  • Objectives – Goals are broken down into smaller, achievable outcomes that support achievement during counseling.
  • Interventions – Interventions should be planned early to support objectives and overall goals.
  • Tracking progress and outcomes – Regular treatment plan review should include updating progress toward goals.

While a vital aspect of the counseling process is to ensure that treatment takes an appropriate direction for the client, it is also valuable and helpful for clients and insurance companies to understand likely timescales.

Therapy Strategies

“Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders with a high burden of disease and the leading cause of years of life lost due to disability” (Hu et al., 2020, p. 1).

  • Exercise interventions Research has shown that even low-to-moderate levels of exercise can help manage and treat depression (Hu et al., 2020).
  • Gratitude Practicing gratitude can profoundly affect how we see our lives and those around us. Completing gratitude journals and reviewing three positive things that have happened at the end of the day have been shown to decrease depression and promote wellbeing (Shapiro, 2020).
  • Behavioral activation Scheduling activities that result in positive emotions can help manage and overcome depression (Behavioral Activation for Depression, n.d.).

Anxiety can stop clients from living their lives fully and experiencing positive emotions. Many interventions can help, including:

  • Understanding your anxiety triggers Interoceptive exposure techniques focus on reproducing sensations associated with anxiety and other difficult emotions. Clients benefit from learning to identify anxiety triggers, behavioral changes, and associated bodily sensations (Boettcher et al., 2016).
  • Using a building image Clients are asked to form a mental image of themselves as a building. Their description of its state of repair and quality of foundation provides helpful insight into the client’s wellbeing and degree of anxiety (Thomas, 2016).

Grief therapy

Grief therapy helps clients accept reality, process the pain, and adjust to a new world following the loss of a loved one. Several techniques can help, including (modified from (Worden, 2018):

  • Creating memory books Compiling a memory book containing photographs, memorabilia, stories, and poems can help families come together, share their grief, and reminisce.
  • Directed imagery Like the ‘empty chair’ technique, through imagining the missing loved one in front of them, the grieving person is given the opportunity to talk to them.

Substance abuse

“There has been significant progress and expansion in the development of evidence-based psychosocial treatments for substance abuse and dependence” (Jhanjee, 2014, p. 1). Psychological interventions play a growing role in disorder treatment programs; they include:

  • Brief optimistic interventions Brief advice is delivered following screening and assessment to at-risk individuals to reduce drinking and other harmful activities.
  • Motivational interviewing This technique involves using targeted questioning while expressing empathy through reflective listening to resolve client ambivalence about their substance abuse.

Marriage therapy

Interventions are a vital aspect of marriage therapy , often targeting communication skills, problem-solving, and taking responsibility (Williams, 2012).

They can include the following interventions:

  • Taking responsibility It is vital that clients take responsibility for their actions within a relationship. The counselor will work with the couple, asking the following questions, as required (modified from Williams, 2012):

How have you contributed to the relationship’s problems? What changes are needed to improve the relationship? Are you willing to make the changes needed?

  • Create an action plan Once the couple agrees, the changes will be combined into a plan, with specific actions to help them achieve their goal.

Helping cancer patients

“There is no evidence to suggest that having counseling will help treat or cure your cancer”; however, it may help with coping, relationship issues, and dealing with practical problems (Cancer Research UK, 2019, para. 16).

Several counseling interventions that have proven helpful with the psychological burden include (Guo et al., 2013):

  • Psychoeducation Sharing the importance of mental wellbeing and coping with the client and involving them in their cancer treatment can reduce anxiety and improve confidence.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Replacing incorrect or unhelpful beliefs can help the client achieve a more positive outlook regarding the treatment.

Career counselors help individuals or groups cope more effectively with career concerns, including (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2017):

  • Career choice
  • Managing career changes and transitions
  • Job-related stress
  • Looking for a job

While there are many interventions and strategies, the following are insightful and effective:

  • Creating narratives Working with clients to build personal career narratives can help them see their movement through life with more meaning and coherence and better understand their decisions. Such an intervention can be valuable in looking forward and choosing the next steps.
  • Group counseling Multiple group sessions can be arranged to cover different aspects of career-related issues and related emotional issues. They may include role-play or open discussion around specific topics.

Group counselors

The ultimate goals are usually to “help group members respond to each other with a combination of therapeutic attending, and sharing their own reactions and related experiences” (Cochran & Cochran, 2015, p. 329).

Examples of group interventions include:

  • Circle of friends This group intervention involves gathering a child’s peers into a circle of friendly support to encourage and help them with problem-solving. The intervention has led to increased social acceptance of children with special needs (Magyar-Moe et al., 2015).
  • Group mindfulness Mindfulness in group settings has been shown to be physically and mentally beneficial (Shapiro, 2020). New members may start by performing a body-scan meditation where they bring awareness to each part of their body before turning their attention to their breathing.

intervention and problem solving goals

17 Tools To Increase Motivation and Goal Achievement

These 17 Motivation & Goal Achievement Exercises [PDF] contain all you need to help others set meaningful goals, increase self-drive, and experience greater accomplishment and life satisfaction.

Created by Experts. 100% Science-based.

We have many free interventions, using various approaches and mediums, that support the counseling process and client goal achievement.

  • Nudge Interventions in Groups The group provides a valuable setting for exploring the potential of ‘nudges’ to alter behavior in a predictable way.
  • Developing Interoceptive Exposure Therapy Interventions This worksheet explores the sensations behind panic attacks and phobias.
  • Therapist Interoceptive Exposure Record Use this helpful log to track interoceptive exposure interventions.
  • Motivational Interviewing This template uses the five stages of change to consider the client’s readiness for change and the appropriate interventions to use.
  • Breaking Out of the Comfort Zone Making changes typically requires clients to step out of their comfort zone. This worksheet identifies opportunities to embrace new challenges.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit© , but they are described briefly below:

  • Benefit finding

Psychological research has identified long-term benefits to using benefit finding, with individuals reporting new appreciation for their strengths and building resilience (e.g., Affleck & Tennen, 1996; Davis et al., 1998; McMillen et al., 1997).

  • Begin by talking about a traumatic event.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of the experience.
  • Consider what the experience has taught you.
  • Identify how the experience has helped you grow
  • Self-compassion box

Self-compassion is a crucial aspect of our psychological wellbeing, made up of showing ourselves kindness, accepting imperfection, and paying attention to personal suffering with clarity and objectivity.

  • Step one – Begin by recognizing the uncompassionate self.
  • Step two – Select self-compassion reminders.
  • Step three – Redirect attention to self-compassion.
  • Step four – Reflect on creating more self-compassion in life.

Over time, the client should see the gaps closing between where they are now and where they want to be.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others reach their goals, check out this collection of 17 validated motivation & goal achievement tools for practitioners. Use them to help others turn their dreams into reality by applying the latest science-based behavioral change techniques.

Counseling uses interventions to create positive change in clients’ lives. They can be performed individually but typically form part of a treatment or intervention plan developed with the client.

Each intervention helps the client work toward their goals, strengthen their capabilities, identify opportunities, increase motivation, and modify behavior.

They aim to create sufficient momentum to support change and avoid the risk of the client reverting, transitioning the client (often one small step at a time) from where they are now to where they want to be.

While some interventions have value in multiple settings – individual, group, career, couples, family – others are specific and purposeful. Many interventions target unhelpful, repetitive thinking patterns and aim to replace harmful thoughts, unrealistic expectations, or biased thinking. Others create a possible future where the client can engage with what might be or could happen , coming to terms with change or their own negative emotions.

Use this article to explore the range of interventions available to counselors in sessions or as homework. Try them out in different settings, working with the client to identify their value or potential for modification.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free .

  • Affleck, G., & Tennen, H. (1996). Construing benefits from adversity: Adaptational significance and dispositional underpinnings. Journal of Personality , 64 , 899–922.
  • American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Intervention. In APA dictionary of psychology . Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/intervention
  • Behavioral Activation for Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://medicine.umich.edu/sites/default/files/content/downloads/Behavioral-Activation-for-Depression.pdf
  • Boettcher, H., Brake, C. A., & Barlow, D. H. (2016). Origins and outlook of interoceptive exposure. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry , 53 , 41–51.
  • Cancer Research UK. (2019). How counselling can help . Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/coping/emotionally/talking-about-cancer/counselling/how-counselling-can-help
  • Cochran, J. L., & Cochran, N. H. (2015). The heart of counseling: Counseling skills through therapeutic relationships . Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Corey, G. (2013). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy . Cengage.
  • Davis, C. G., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Larson, J. (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience: Two construals of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 75 , 561–574.
  • Dobson, K. S. (Ed.) (2010). Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.
  • Guo, Z., Tang, H. Y., Li, H., Tan, S. K., Feng, K. H., Huang, Y. C., Bu, Q., & Jiang, W. (2013). The benefits of psychosocial interventions for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes , 11 (1), 1–12.
  • GoodTherapy. (2019, September 25). Treatment plan . Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/treatment-plan
  • Hu, M. X., Turner, D., Generaal, E., Bos, D., Ikram, M. K., Ikram, M. A., Cuijpers, P., & Penninx, B. W. J. H. (2020). Exercise interventions for the prevention of depression: a systematic review of meta-analyses. BMC Public Health , 20 (1), 1255.
  • Jhanjee, S. (2014). Evidence-based psychosocial interventions in substance use. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine , 36 (2), 112–118.
  • Magyar-Moe, J. L., Owens, R. L., & Conoley, C. W. (2015). Positive psychological interventions in counseling. The Counseling Psychologist , 43 (4), 508–557.
  • McMillen, J. C., Smith, E. M., & Fisher, R. H. (1997). Perceived benefit and mental health after three types of disaster. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , 65 , 733–739.
  • Michie, S., Atkins, L., & West, R. (2014). The behaviour change wheel: A guide to designing interventions . Silverback.
  • Nelson-Jones, R. (2014). Practical counselling and helping skills . Sage.
  • Niles, S. G., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2017). Career development interventions . Pearson.
  • Shapiro, S. L. (2020). Rewire your mind: Discover the science + practice of mindfulness . Aster.
  • Sommers-Flanagan, J., & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2015). Study guide for counseling and psychotherapy theories in context and practice: Skills, strategies, and techniques (2nd ed.). Wiley.
  • Thomas, V. (2016). Using mental imagery in counselling and psychotherapy: A guide to more inclusive theory and practice . Routledge.
  • Williams, M. (2012). Couples counseling: A step by step guide for therapists . Viale.
  • Worden, J. W. (2018). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner . Springer.

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What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

intervention and problem solving goals

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

intervention and problem solving goals

Verywell / Daniel Fishel

  • Effectiveness
  • Considerations
  • Getting Started

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change the destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on their behavior and emotions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy combines cognitive therapy with behavior therapy by identifying maladaptive patterns of thinking, emotional responses, or behaviors and replacing them with more desirable patterns.

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the automatic negative thoughts that can contribute to and worsen our emotional difficulties, depression , and anxiety . These spontaneous negative thoughts also have a detrimental influence on our mood.

Through CBT, faulty thoughts are identified, challenged, and replaced with more objective, realistic thoughts.

Everything You Need to Know About CBT

This video has been medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD .

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT encompasses a range of techniques and approaches that address our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These can range from structured psychotherapies to self-help practices. Some of the specific types of therapeutic approaches that involve cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Cognitive therapy centers on identifying and changing inaccurate or distorted thought patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)  addresses destructive or disturbing thoughts and behaviors while incorporating treatment strategies such as emotional regulation and mindfulness.
  • Multimodal therapy suggests that psychological issues must be treated by addressing seven different but interconnected modalities: behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal factors, and drug/biological considerations.
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) involves identifying irrational beliefs, actively challenging these beliefs, and finally learning to recognize and change these thought patterns.

While each type of cognitive behavioral therapy takes a different approach, all work to address the underlying thought patterns that contribute to psychological distress.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques

CBT is about more than identifying thought patterns. It uses a wide range of strategies to help people overcome these patterns. Here are just a few examples of techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Identifying Negative Thoughts

It is important to learn what thoughts, feelings, and situations are contributing to maladaptive behaviors. This process can be difficult, however, especially for people who struggle with introspection . But taking the time to identify these thoughts can also lead to self-discovery and provide insights that are essential to the treatment process.

Practicing New Skills

In cognitive behavioral therapy, people are often taught new skills that can be used in real-world situations. For example, someone with a substance use disorder might practice new coping skills and rehearse ways to avoid or deal with social situations that could potentially trigger a relapse.

Goal-Setting

Goal setting can be an important step in recovery from mental illness, helping you to make changes to improve your health and life. During cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapist can help you build and strengthen your goal-setting skills .

This might involve teaching you how to identify your goal or how to distinguish between short- and long-term goals. It may also include helping you set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based), with a focus on the process as much as the end outcome.

Problem-Solving

Learning problem-solving skills during cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn how to identify and solve problems that may arise from life stressors, both big and small. It can also help reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness.

Problem-solving in CBT often involves five steps:

  • Identify the problem
  • Generate a list of potential solutions
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each potential solution
  • Choose a solution to implement
  • Implement the solution

Self-Monitoring

Also known as diary work, self-monitoring is an important cognitive behavioral therapy technique. It involves tracking behaviors, symptoms, or experiences over time and sharing them with your therapist.

Self-monitoring can provide your therapist with the information they need to provide the best treatment. For example, for people with eating disorders, self-monitoring may involve keeping track of eating habits, as well as any thoughts or feelings that went along with consuming a meal or snack.

Additional cognitive behavioral therapy techniques may include journaling , role-playing , engaging in relaxation strategies , and using mental distractions .

What Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help With

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used as a short-term treatment to help individuals learn to focus on present thoughts and beliefs.

CBT is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Anger issues
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Personality disorders

In addition to mental health conditions, cognitive behavioral therapy has also been found to help people cope with:

  • Chronic pain or serious illnesses
  • Divorce or break-ups
  • Grief or loss
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship problems
  • Stress management

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We've tried, tested, and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, BetterHelp, and ReGain. Find out which option is the best for you.

Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The underlying concept behind CBT is that thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in behavior. For example, a person who spends a lot of time thinking about plane crashes, runway accidents, and other air disasters may avoid air travel as a result.

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to teach people that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.

CBT is known for providing the following key benefits:

  • It helps you develop healthier thought patterns by becoming aware of the negative and often unrealistic thoughts that dampen your feelings and moods.
  • It is an effective short-term treatment option as improvements can often be seen in five to 20 sessions.
  • It is effective for a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.
  • It is often more affordable than some other types of therapy .
  • It is effective whether therapy occurs online or face-to-face.
  • It can be used for those who don't require psychotropic medication .

One of the greatest benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy is that it helps clients develop coping skills that can be useful both now and in the future.

Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT emerged during the 1960s and originated in the work of psychiatrist Aaron Beck , who noted that certain types of thinking contributed to emotional problems. Beck labeled these "automatic negative thoughts" and developed the process of cognitive therapy. 

Where earlier behavior therapies had focused almost exclusively on associations, reinforcements , and punishments to modify behavior, the cognitive approach addresses how thoughts and feelings affect behaviors.

Today, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most well-studied forms of treatment. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of a range of mental conditions, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive disorder , panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder , and substance use disorder.

  • Research indicates that cognitive behavioral therapy is the leading evidence-based treatment for eating disorders .
  • CBT has been proven helpful in those with insomnia, as well as those who have a medical condition that interferes with sleep, including those with pain or mood disorders such as depression.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy has been scientifically proven to be effective in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents.
  • A 2018 meta-analysis of 41 studies found that CBT helped improve symptoms in people with anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy has a high level of empirical support for the treatment of substance use disorders, helping people with these disorders improve self-control , avoid triggers, and develop coping mechanisms for daily stressors.

CBT is one of the most researched types of therapy, in part, because treatment is focused on very specific goals and results can be measured relatively easily.

Verywell Mind's Cost of Therapy Survey , which sought to learn more about how Americans deal with the financial burdens associated with therapy, found that Americans overwhelmingly feel the benefits of therapy:

  • 80% say therapy is a good investment
  • 91% are satisfied with the quality of therapy they receive
  • 84% are satisfied with their progress toward mental health goals

Things to Consider With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There are several challenges that people may face when engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy. Here are a few to consider.

Change Can Be Difficult

Initially, some patients suggest that while they recognize that certain thoughts are not rational or healthy, simply becoming aware of these thoughts does not make it easy to alter them.

CBT Is Very Structured

Cognitive behavioral therapy doesn't focus on underlying, unconscious resistance to change as much as other approaches such as  psychoanalytic psychotherapy . Instead, it tends to be more structured, so it may not be suitable for people who may find structure difficult.

You Must Be Willing to Change

For cognitive behavioral therapy to be effective, you must be ready and willing to spend time and effort analyzing your thoughts and feelings. This self-analysis can be difficult, but it is a great way to learn more about how our internal states impact our outward behavior.

Progress Is Often Gradual

In most cases, CBT is a gradual process that helps you take incremental steps toward behavior change . For example, someone with social anxiety might start by simply imagining anxiety-provoking social situations. Next, they may practice conversations with friends, family, and acquaintances. By progressively working toward a larger goal, the process seems less daunting and the goals easier to achieve.

How to Get Started With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be an effective treatment choice for a range of psychological issues. If you or someone you love might benefit from this form of therapy, consider the following steps:

  • Consult with your physician and/or check out the directory of certified therapists offered by the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists to locate a licensed professional in your area. You can also do a search for "cognitive behavioral therapy near me" to find local therapists who specialize in this type of therapy.
  • Consider your personal preferences , including whether face-to-face or online therapy will work best for you.
  • Contact your health insurance to see if it covers cognitive behavioral therapy and, if so, how many sessions are covered per year.
  • Make an appointment with the therapist you've chosen, noting it on your calendar so you don't forget it or accidentally schedule something else during that time.
  • Show up to your first session with an open mind and positive attitude. Be ready to begin to identify the thoughts and behaviors that may be holding you back, and commit to learning the strategies that can propel you forward instead.

What to Expect With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

If you're new to cognitive behavioral therapy, you may have uncertainties or fears of what to expect. In many ways, the first session begins much like your first appointment with any new healthcare provider.

During the first session, you'll likely spend some time filling out paperwork such as HIPAA forms (privacy forms), insurance information, medical history, current medications, and a therapist-patient service agreement. If you're participating in online therapy, you'll likely fill out these forms online.

Also be prepared to answer questions about what brought you to therapy, your symptoms , and your history—including your childhood, education, career, relationships (family, romantic, friends), and current living situation.

Once the therapist has a better idea of who you are, the challenges you face, and your goals for cognitive behavioral therapy, they can help you increase your awareness of the thoughts and beliefs you have that are unhelpful or unrealistic. Next, strategies are implemented to help you develop healthier thoughts and behavior patterns.

During later sessions, you will discuss how your strategies are working and change the ones that aren't. Your therapist may also suggest cognitive behavioral therapy techniques you can do yourself between sessions, such as journaling to identify negative thoughts or practicing new skills to overcome your anxiety .

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at  988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our  National Helpline Database .

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Merriam-Webster. Cognitive behavioral therapy .

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Lazarus AA, Abramovitz A. A multimodal behavioral approach to performance anxiety . J Clin Psychol. 2004;60(8):831-40. doi:10.1002/jclp.20041

Lincoln TM, Riehle M, Pillny M, et al. Using functional analysis as a framework to guide individualized treatment for negative symptoms . Front Psychol. 2017;8:2108. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02108

Ugueto AM, Santucci LC, Krumholz LS, Weisz JR. Problem-solving skills training . Evidence-Based CBT for Anxiety and Depression in Children and Adolescents: A Competencies-Based Approach . 2014. doi:10.1002/9781118500576.ch17

Lindgreen P, Lomborg K, Clausen L.  Patient experiences using a self-monitoring app in eating disorder treatment: Qualitative study .  JMIR Mhealth Uhealth.  2018;6(6):e10253. doi:10.2196/10253

Tsitsas GD, Paschali AA. A cognitive-behavior therapy applied to a social anxiety disorder and a specific phobia, case study . Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1603. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1603

Kumar V, Sattar Y, Bseiso A, Khan S, Rutkofsky IH.  The effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment of psychiatric disorders .  Cureus . 2017;9(8):e1626.

Trauer JM, Qian MY, Doyle JS, Rajaratnam SMW, Cunnington D. Cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis .  Ann Intern Med . 2015;163(3):191. doi:10.7326/M14-2841

Agras WS, Fitzsimmons-craft EE, Wilfley DE.  Evolution of cognitive-behavioral therapy for eating disorders .  Behav Res Ther . 2017;88:26-36. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2016.09.004

Oud M, De winter L, Vermeulen-smit E, et al.  Effectiveness of CBT for children and adolescents with depression: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis . Eur Psychiatry . 2019;57:33-45. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2018.12.008

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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

How to improve your problem solving skills and build effective problem solving strategies

intervention and problem solving goals

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Effective problem solving is all about using the right process and following a plan tailored to the issue at hand. Recognizing your team or organization has an issue isn’t enough to come up with effective problem solving strategies. 

To truly understand a problem and develop appropriate solutions, you will want to follow a solid process, follow the necessary problem solving steps, and bring all of your problem solving skills to the table.  

We’ll first guide you through the seven step problem solving process you and your team can use to effectively solve complex business challenges. We’ll also look at what problem solving strategies you can employ with your team when looking for a way to approach the process. We’ll then discuss the problem solving skills you need to be more effective at solving problems, complete with an activity from the SessionLab library you can use to develop that skill in your team.

Let’s get to it! 

What is a problem solving process?

  • What are the problem solving steps I need to follow?

Problem solving strategies

What skills do i need to be an effective problem solver, how can i improve my problem solving skills.

Solving problems is like baking a cake. You can go straight into the kitchen without a recipe or the right ingredients and do your best, but the end result is unlikely to be very tasty!

Using a process to bake a cake allows you to use the best ingredients without waste, collect the right tools, account for allergies, decide whether it is a birthday or wedding cake, and then bake efficiently and on time. The result is a better cake that is fit for purpose, tastes better and has created less mess in the kitchen. Also, it should have chocolate sprinkles. Having a step by step process to solve organizational problems allows you to go through each stage methodically and ensure you are trying to solve the right problems and select the most appropriate, effective solutions.

What are the problem solving steps I need to follow? 

All problem solving processes go through a number of steps in order to move from identifying a problem to resolving it.

Depending on your problem solving model and who you ask, there can be anything between four and nine problem solving steps you should follow in order to find the right solution. Whatever framework you and your group use, there are some key items that should be addressed in order to have an effective process.

We’ve looked at problem solving processes from sources such as the American Society for Quality and their four step approach , and Mediate ‘s six step process. By reflecting on those and our own problem solving processes, we’ve come up with a sequence of seven problem solving steps we feel best covers everything you need in order to effectively solve problems.

seven step problem solving process

1. Problem identification 

The first stage of any problem solving process is to identify the problem or problems you might want to solve. Effective problem solving strategies always begin by allowing a group scope to articulate what they believe the problem to be and then coming to some consensus over which problem they approach first. Problem solving activities used at this stage often have a focus on creating frank, open discussion so that potential problems can be brought to the surface.

2. Problem analysis 

Though this step is not a million miles from problem identification, problem analysis deserves to be considered separately. It can often be an overlooked part of the process and is instrumental when it comes to developing effective solutions.

The process of problem analysis means ensuring that the problem you are seeking to solve is the right problem . As part of this stage, you may look deeper and try to find the root cause of a specific problem at a team or organizational level.

Remember that problem solving strategies should not only be focused on putting out fires in the short term but developing long term solutions that deal with the root cause of organizational challenges. 

Whatever your approach, analyzing a problem is crucial in being able to select an appropriate solution and the problem solving skills deployed in this stage are beneficial for the rest of the process and ensuring the solutions you create are fit for purpose.

3. Solution generation

Once your group has nailed down the particulars of the problem you wish to solve, you want to encourage a free flow of ideas connecting to solving that problem. This can take the form of problem solving games that encourage creative thinking or problem solving activities designed to produce working prototypes of possible solutions. 

The key to ensuring the success of this stage of the problem solving process is to encourage quick, creative thinking and create an open space where all ideas are considered. The best solutions can come from unlikely places and by using problem solving techniques that celebrate invention, you might come up with solution gold. 

4. Solution development

No solution is likely to be perfect right out of the gate. It’s important to discuss and develop the solutions your group has come up with over the course of following the previous problem solving steps in order to arrive at the best possible solution. Problem solving games used in this stage involve lots of critical thinking, measuring potential effort and impact, and looking at possible solutions analytically. 

During this stage, you will often ask your team to iterate and improve upon your frontrunning solutions and develop them further. Remember that problem solving strategies always benefit from a multitude of voices and opinions, and not to let ego get involved when it comes to choosing which solutions to develop and take further.

Finding the best solution is the goal of all problem solving workshops and here is the place to ensure that your solution is well thought out, sufficiently robust and fit for purpose. 

5. Decision making 

Nearly there! Once your group has reached consensus and selected a solution that applies to the problem at hand you have some decisions to make. You will want to work on allocating ownership of the project, figure out who will do what, how the success of the solution will be measured and decide the next course of action.

The decision making stage is a part of the problem solving process that can get missed or taken as for granted. Fail to properly allocate roles and plan out how a solution will actually be implemented and it less likely to be successful in solving the problem.

Have clear accountabilities, actions, timeframes, and follow-ups. Make these decisions and set clear next-steps in the problem solving workshop so that everyone is aligned and you can move forward effectively as a group. 

Ensuring that you plan for the roll-out of a solution is one of the most important problem solving steps. Without adequate planning or oversight, it can prove impossible to measure success or iterate further if the problem was not solved. 

6. Solution implementation 

This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. 

Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully. Only then can you ensure that you are solving the right problem but also that you have developed the correct solution and can then successfully implement and measure the impact of that solution.

Project management and communication skills are key here – your solution may need to adjust when out in the wild or you might discover new challenges along the way.

7. Solution evaluation 

So you and your team developed a great solution to a problem and have a gut feeling its been solved. Work done, right? Wrong. All problem solving strategies benefit from evaluation, consideration, and feedback. You might find that the solution does not work for everyone, might create new problems, or is potentially so successful that you will want to roll it out to larger teams or as part of other initiatives. 

None of that is possible without taking the time to evaluate the success of the solution you developed in your problem solving model and adjust if necessary.

Remember that the problem solving process is often iterative and it can be common to not solve complex issues on the first try. Even when this is the case, you and your team will have generated learning that will be important for future problem solving workshops or in other parts of the organization. 

It’s worth underlining how important record keeping is throughout the problem solving process. If a solution didn’t work, you need to have the data and records to see why that was the case. If you go back to the drawing board, notes from the previous workshop can help save time. Data and insight is invaluable at every stage of the problem solving process and this one is no different.

Problem solving workshops made easy

intervention and problem solving goals

Problem solving strategies are methods of approaching and facilitating the process of problem-solving with a set of techniques , actions, and processes. Different strategies are more effective if you are trying to solve broad problems such as achieving higher growth versus more focused problems like, how do we improve our customer onboarding process?

Broadly, the problem solving steps outlined above should be included in any problem solving strategy though choosing where to focus your time and what approaches should be taken is where they begin to differ. You might find that some strategies ask for the problem identification to be done prior to the session or that everything happens in the course of a one day workshop.

The key similarity is that all good problem solving strategies are structured and designed. Four hours of open discussion is never going to be as productive as a four-hour workshop designed to lead a group through a problem solving process.

Good problem solving strategies are tailored to the team, organization and problem you will be attempting to solve. Here are some example problem solving strategies you can learn from or use to get started.

Use a workshop to lead a team through a group process

Often, the first step to solving problems or organizational challenges is bringing a group together effectively. Most teams have the tools, knowledge, and expertise necessary to solve their challenges – they just need some guidance in how to use leverage those skills and a structure and format that allows people to focus their energies.

Facilitated workshops are one of the most effective ways of solving problems of any scale. By designing and planning your workshop carefully, you can tailor the approach and scope to best fit the needs of your team and organization. 

Problem solving workshop

  • Creating a bespoke, tailored process
  • Tackling problems of any size
  • Building in-house workshop ability and encouraging their use

Workshops are an effective strategy for solving problems. By using tried and test facilitation techniques and methods, you can design and deliver a workshop that is perfectly suited to the unique variables of your organization. You may only have the capacity for a half-day workshop and so need a problem solving process to match. 

By using our session planner tool and importing methods from our library of 700+ facilitation techniques, you can create the right problem solving workshop for your team. It might be that you want to encourage creative thinking or look at things from a new angle to unblock your groups approach to problem solving. By tailoring your workshop design to the purpose, you can help ensure great results.

One of the main benefits of a workshop is the structured approach to problem solving. Not only does this mean that the workshop itself will be successful, but many of the methods and techniques will help your team improve their working processes outside of the workshop. 

We believe that workshops are one of the best tools you can use to improve the way your team works together. Start with a problem solving workshop and then see what team building, culture or design workshops can do for your organization!

Run a design sprint

Great for: 

  • aligning large, multi-discipline teams
  • quickly designing and testing solutions
  • tackling large, complex organizational challenges and breaking them down into smaller tasks

By using design thinking principles and methods, a design sprint is a great way of identifying, prioritizing and prototyping solutions to long term challenges that can help solve major organizational problems with quick action and measurable results.

Some familiarity with design thinking is useful, though not integral, and this strategy can really help a team align if there is some discussion around which problems should be approached first. 

The stage-based structure of the design sprint is also very useful for teams new to design thinking.  The inspiration phase, where you look to competitors that have solved your problem, and the rapid prototyping and testing phases are great for introducing new concepts that will benefit a team in all their future work. 

It can be common for teams to look inward for solutions and so looking to the market for solutions you can iterate on can be very productive. Instilling an agile prototyping and testing mindset can also be great when helping teams move forwards – generating and testing solutions quickly can help save time in the long run and is also pretty exciting!

Break problems down into smaller issues

Organizational challenges and problems are often complicated and large scale in nature. Sometimes, trying to resolve such an issue in one swoop is simply unachievable or overwhelming. Try breaking down such problems into smaller issues that you can work on step by step. You may not be able to solve the problem of churning customers off the bat, but you can work with your team to identify smaller effort but high impact elements and work on those first.

This problem solving strategy can help a team generate momentum, prioritize and get some easy wins. It’s also a great strategy to employ with teams who are just beginning to learn how to approach the problem solving process. If you want some insight into a way to employ this strategy, we recommend looking at our design sprint template below!

Use guiding frameworks or try new methodologies

Some problems are best solved by introducing a major shift in perspective or by using new methodologies that encourage your team to think differently.

Props and tools such as Methodkit , which uses a card-based toolkit for facilitation, or Lego Serious Play can be great ways to engage your team and find an inclusive, democratic problem solving strategy. Remember that play and creativity are great tools for achieving change and whatever the challenge, engaging your participants can be very effective where other strategies may have failed.

LEGO Serious Play

  • Improving core problem solving skills
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Encouraging creative solutions

LEGO Serious Play is a problem solving methodology designed to get participants thinking differently by using 3D models and kinesthetic learning styles. By physically building LEGO models based on questions and exercises, participants are encouraged to think outside of the box and create their own responses. 

Collaborate LEGO Serious Play exercises are also used to encourage communication and build problem solving skills in a group. By using this problem solving process, you can often help different kinds of learners and personality types contribute and unblock organizational problems with creative thinking. 

Problem solving strategies like LEGO Serious Play are super effective at helping a team solve more skills-based problems such as communication between teams or a lack of creative thinking. Some problems are not suited to LEGO Serious Play and require a different problem solving strategy.

Card Decks and Method Kits

  • New facilitators or non-facilitators 
  • Approaching difficult subjects with a simple, creative framework
  • Engaging those with varied learning styles

Card decks and method kids are great tools for those new to facilitation or for whom facilitation is not the primary role. Card decks such as the emotional culture deck can be used for complete workshops and in many cases, can be used right out of the box. Methodkit has a variety of kits designed for scenarios ranging from personal development through to personas and global challenges so you can find the right deck for your particular needs.

Having an easy to use framework that encourages creativity or a new approach can take some of the friction or planning difficulties out of the workshop process and energize a team in any setting. Simplicity is the key with these methods. By ensuring everyone on your team can get involved and engage with the process as quickly as possible can really contribute to the success of your problem solving strategy.

Source external advice

Looking to peers, experts and external facilitators can be a great way of approaching the problem solving process. Your team may not have the necessary expertise, insights of experience to tackle some issues, or you might simply benefit from a fresh perspective. Some problems may require bringing together an entire team, and coaching managers or team members individually might be the right approach. Remember that not all problems are best resolved in the same manner.

If you’re a solo entrepreneur, peer groups, coaches and mentors can also be invaluable at not only solving specific business problems, but in providing a support network for resolving future challenges. One great approach is to join a Mastermind Group and link up with like-minded individuals and all grow together. Remember that however you approach the sourcing of external advice, do so thoughtfully, respectfully and honestly. Reciprocate where you can and prepare to be surprised by just how kind and helpful your peers can be!

Mastermind Group

  • Solo entrepreneurs or small teams with low capacity
  • Peer learning and gaining outside expertise
  • Getting multiple external points of view quickly

Problem solving in large organizations with lots of skilled team members is one thing, but how about if you work for yourself or in a very small team without the capacity to get the most from a design sprint or LEGO Serious Play session? 

A mastermind group – sometimes known as a peer advisory board – is where a group of people come together to support one another in their own goals, challenges, and businesses. Each participant comes to the group with their own purpose and the other members of the group will help them create solutions, brainstorm ideas, and support one another. 

Mastermind groups are very effective in creating an energized, supportive atmosphere that can deliver meaningful results. Learning from peers from outside of your organization or industry can really help unlock new ways of thinking and drive growth. Access to the experience and skills of your peers can be invaluable in helping fill the gaps in your own ability, particularly in young companies.

A mastermind group is a great solution for solo entrepreneurs, small teams, or for organizations that feel that external expertise or fresh perspectives will be beneficial for them. It is worth noting that Mastermind groups are often only as good as the participants and what they can bring to the group. Participants need to be committed, engaged and understand how to work in this context. 

Coaching and mentoring

  • Focused learning and development
  • Filling skills gaps
  • Working on a range of challenges over time

Receiving advice from a business coach or building a mentor/mentee relationship can be an effective way of resolving certain challenges. The one-to-one format of most coaching and mentor relationships can really help solve the challenges those individuals are having and benefit the organization as a result.

A great mentor can be invaluable when it comes to spotting potential problems before they arise and coming to understand a mentee very well has a host of other business benefits. You might run an internal mentorship program to help develop your team’s problem solving skills and strategies or as part of a large learning and development program. External coaches can also be an important part of your problem solving strategy, filling skills gaps for your management team or helping with specific business issues. 

Now we’ve explored the problem solving process and the steps you will want to go through in order to have an effective session, let’s look at the skills you and your team need to be more effective problem solvers.

Problem solving skills are highly sought after, whatever industry or team you work in. Organizations are keen to employ people who are able to approach problems thoughtfully and find strong, realistic solutions. Whether you are a facilitator , a team leader or a developer, being an effective problem solver is a skill you’ll want to develop.

Problem solving skills form a whole suite of techniques and approaches that an individual uses to not only identify problems but to discuss them productively before then developing appropriate solutions.

Here are some of the most important problem solving skills everyone from executives to junior staff members should learn. We’ve also included an activity or exercise from the SessionLab library that can help you and your team develop that skill. 

If you’re running a workshop or training session to try and improve problem solving skills in your team, try using these methods to supercharge your process!

Problem solving skills checklist

Active listening

Active listening is one of the most important skills anyone who works with people can possess. In short, active listening is a technique used to not only better understand what is being said by an individual, but also to be more aware of the underlying message the speaker is trying to convey. When it comes to problem solving, active listening is integral for understanding the position of every participant and to clarify the challenges, ideas and solutions they bring to the table.

Some active listening skills include:

  • Paying complete attention to the speaker.
  • Removing distractions.
  • Avoid interruption.
  • Taking the time to fully understand before preparing a rebuttal.
  • Responding respectfully and appropriately.
  • Demonstrate attentiveness and positivity with an open posture, making eye contact with the speaker, smiling and nodding if appropriate. Show that you are listening and encourage them to continue.
  • Be aware of and respectful of feelings. Judge the situation and respond appropriately. You can disagree without being disrespectful.   
  • Observe body language. 
  • Paraphrase what was said in your own words, either mentally or verbally.
  • Remain neutral. 
  • Reflect and take a moment before responding.
  • Ask deeper questions based on what is said and clarify points where necessary.   
Active Listening   #hyperisland   #skills   #active listening   #remote-friendly   This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Analytical skills

All problem solving models require strong analytical skills, particularly during the beginning of the process and when it comes to analyzing how solutions have performed.

Analytical skills are primarily focused on performing an effective analysis by collecting, studying and parsing data related to a problem or opportunity. 

It often involves spotting patterns, being able to see things from different perspectives and using observable facts and data to make suggestions or produce insight. 

Analytical skills are also important at every stage of the problem solving process and by having these skills, you can ensure that any ideas or solutions you create or backed up analytically and have been sufficiently thought out.

Nine Whys   #innovation   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   With breathtaking simplicity, you can rapidly clarify for individuals and a group what is essentially important in their work. You can quickly reveal when a compelling purpose is missing in a gathering and avoid moving forward without clarity. When a group discovers an unambiguous shared purpose, more freedom and more responsibility are unleashed. You have laid the foundation for spreading and scaling innovations with fidelity.

Collaboration

Trying to solve problems on your own is difficult. Being able to collaborate effectively, with a free exchange of ideas, to delegate and be a productive member of a team is hugely important to all problem solving strategies.

Remember that whatever your role, collaboration is integral, and in a problem solving process, you are all working together to find the best solution for everyone. 

Marshmallow challenge with debriefing   #teamwork   #team   #leadership   #collaboration   In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top. The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.

Communication  

Being an effective communicator means being empathetic, clear and succinct, asking the right questions, and demonstrating active listening skills throughout any discussion or meeting. 

In a problem solving setting, you need to communicate well in order to progress through each stage of the process effectively. As a team leader, it may also fall to you to facilitate communication between parties who may not see eye to eye. Effective communication also means helping others to express themselves and be heard in a group.

Bus Trip   #feedback   #communication   #appreciation   #closing   #thiagi   #team   This is one of my favourite feedback games. I use Bus Trip at the end of a training session or a meeting, and I use it all the time. The game creates a massive amount of energy with lots of smiles, laughs, and sometimes even a teardrop or two.

Creative problem solving skills can be some of the best tools in your arsenal. Thinking creatively, being able to generate lots of ideas and come up with out of the box solutions is useful at every step of the process. 

The kinds of problems you will likely discuss in a problem solving workshop are often difficult to solve, and by approaching things in a fresh, creative manner, you can often create more innovative solutions.

Having practical creative skills is also a boon when it comes to problem solving. If you can help create quality design sketches and prototypes in record time, it can help bring a team to alignment more quickly or provide a base for further iteration.

The paper clip method   #sharing   #creativity   #warm up   #idea generation   #brainstorming   The power of brainstorming. A training for project leaders, creativity training, and to catalyse getting new solutions.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is one of the fundamental problem solving skills you’ll want to develop when working on developing solutions. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, rationalize and evaluate while being aware of personal bias, outlying factors and remaining open-minded.

Defining and analyzing problems without deploying critical thinking skills can mean you and your team go down the wrong path. Developing solutions to complex issues requires critical thinking too – ensuring your team considers all possibilities and rationally evaluating them. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Data analysis 

Though it shares lots of space with general analytical skills, data analysis skills are something you want to cultivate in their own right in order to be an effective problem solver.

Being good at data analysis doesn’t just mean being able to find insights from data, but also selecting the appropriate data for a given issue, interpreting it effectively and knowing how to model and present that data. Depending on the problem at hand, it might also include a working knowledge of specific data analysis tools and procedures. 

Having a solid grasp of data analysis techniques is useful if you’re leading a problem solving workshop but if you’re not an expert, don’t worry. Bring people into the group who has this skill set and help your team be more effective as a result.

Decision making

All problems need a solution and all solutions require that someone make the decision to implement them. Without strong decision making skills, teams can become bogged down in discussion and less effective as a result. 

Making decisions is a key part of the problem solving process. It’s important to remember that decision making is not restricted to the leadership team. Every staff member makes decisions every day and developing these skills ensures that your team is able to solve problems at any scale. Remember that making decisions does not mean leaping to the first solution but weighing up the options and coming to an informed, well thought out solution to any given problem that works for the whole team.

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

Dependability

Most complex organizational problems require multiple people to be involved in delivering the solution. Ensuring that the team and organization can depend on you to take the necessary actions and communicate where necessary is key to ensuring problems are solved effectively.

Being dependable also means working to deadlines and to brief. It is often a matter of creating trust in a team so that everyone can depend on one another to complete the agreed actions in the agreed time frame so that the team can move forward together. Being undependable can create problems of friction and can limit the effectiveness of your solutions so be sure to bear this in mind throughout a project. 

Team Purpose & Culture   #team   #hyperisland   #culture   #remote-friendly   This is an essential process designed to help teams define their purpose (why they exist) and their culture (how they work together to achieve that purpose). Defining these two things will help any team to be more focused and aligned. With support of tangible examples from other companies, the team members work as individuals and a group to codify the way they work together. The goal is a visual manifestation of both the purpose and culture that can be put up in the team’s work space.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any successful team member, whether communicating internally or with clients or users. In the problem solving process, emotional intelligence means being attuned to how people are feeling and thinking, communicating effectively and being self-aware of what you bring to a room. 

There are often differences of opinion when working through problem solving processes, and it can be easy to let things become impassioned or combative. Developing your emotional intelligence means being empathetic to your colleagues and managing your own emotions throughout the problem and solution process. Be kind, be thoughtful and put your points across care and attention. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a skill for life and by deploying it at work, you can not only work efficiently but empathetically. Check out the emotional culture workshop template for more!

Facilitation

As we’ve clarified in our facilitation skills post, facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership, and creativity by all those involved. While facilitation is a set of interrelated skills in itself, the broad definition of facilitation can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving. Leading a team through a problem solving process is made more effective if you improve and utilize facilitation skills – whether you’re a manager, team leader or external stakeholder.

The Six Thinking Hats   #creative thinking   #meeting facilitation   #problem solving   #issue resolution   #idea generation   #conflict resolution   The Six Thinking Hats are used by individuals and groups to separate out conflicting styles of thinking. They enable and encourage a group of people to think constructively together in exploring and implementing change, rather than using argument to fight over who is right and who is wrong.

Flexibility 

Being flexible is a vital skill when it comes to problem solving. This does not mean immediately bowing to pressure or changing your opinion quickly: instead, being flexible is all about seeing things from new perspectives, receiving new information and factoring it into your thought process.

Flexibility is also important when it comes to rolling out solutions. It might be that other organizational projects have greater priority or require the same resources as your chosen solution. Being flexible means understanding needs and challenges across the team and being open to shifting or arranging your own schedule as necessary. Again, this does not mean immediately making way for other projects. It’s about articulating your own needs, understanding the needs of others and being able to come to a meaningful compromise.

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

Working in any group can lead to unconscious elements of groupthink or situations in which you may not wish to be entirely honest. Disagreeing with the opinions of the executive team or wishing to save the feelings of a coworker can be tricky to navigate, but being honest is absolutely vital when to comes to developing effective solutions and ensuring your voice is heard. 

Remember that being honest does not mean being brutally candid. You can deliver your honest feedback and opinions thoughtfully and without creating friction by using other skills such as emotional intelligence. 

Explore your Values   #hyperisland   #skills   #values   #remote-friendly   Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.

Initiative 

The problem solving process is multi-faceted and requires different approaches at certain points of the process. Taking initiative to bring problems to the attention of the team, collect data or lead the solution creating process is always valuable. You might even roadtest your own small scale solutions or brainstorm before a session. Taking initiative is particularly effective if you have good deal of knowledge in that area or have ownership of a particular project and want to get things kickstarted.

That said, be sure to remember to honor the process and work in service of the team. If you are asked to own one part of the problem solving process and you don’t complete that task because your initiative leads you to work on something else, that’s not an effective method of solving business challenges.

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

Impartiality

A particularly useful problem solving skill for product owners or managers is the ability to remain impartial throughout much of the process. In practice, this means treating all points of view and ideas brought forward in a meeting equally and ensuring that your own areas of interest or ownership are not favored over others. 

There may be a stage in the process where a decision maker has to weigh the cost and ROI of possible solutions against the company roadmap though even then, ensuring that the decision made is based on merit and not personal opinion. 

Empathy map   #frame insights   #create   #design   #issue analysis   An empathy map is a tool to help a design team to empathize with the people they are designing for. You can make an empathy map for a group of people or for a persona. To be used after doing personas when more insights are needed.

Being a good leader means getting a team aligned, energized and focused around a common goal. In the problem solving process, strong leadership helps ensure that the process is efficient, that any conflicts are resolved and that a team is managed in the direction of success.

It’s common for managers or executives to assume this role in a problem solving workshop, though it’s important that the leader maintains impartiality and does not bulldoze the group in a particular direction. Remember that good leadership means working in service of the purpose and team and ensuring the workshop is a safe space for employees of any level to contribute. Take a look at our leadership games and activities post for more exercises and methods to help improve leadership in your organization.

Leadership Pizza   #leadership   #team   #remote-friendly   This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

In the context of problem solving, mediation is important in keeping a team engaged, happy and free of conflict. When leading or facilitating a problem solving workshop, you are likely to run into differences of opinion. Depending on the nature of the problem, certain issues may be brought up that are emotive in nature. 

Being an effective mediator means helping those people on either side of such a divide are heard, listen to one another and encouraged to find common ground and a resolution. Mediating skills are useful for leaders and managers in many situations and the problem solving process is no different.

Conflict Responses   #hyperisland   #team   #issue resolution   A workshop for a team to reflect on past conflicts, and use them to generate guidelines for effective conflict handling. The workshop uses the Thomas-Killman model of conflict responses to frame a reflective discussion. Use it to open up a discussion around conflict with a team.

Planning 

Solving organizational problems is much more effective when following a process or problem solving model. Planning skills are vital in order to structure, deliver and follow-through on a problem solving workshop and ensure your solutions are intelligently deployed.

Planning skills include the ability to organize tasks and a team, plan and design the process and take into account any potential challenges. Taking the time to plan carefully can save time and frustration later in the process and is valuable for ensuring a team is positioned for success.

3 Action Steps   #hyperisland   #action   #remote-friendly   This is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or programme. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.

Prioritization

As organisations grow, the scale and variation of problems they face multiplies. Your team or is likely to face numerous challenges in different areas and so having the skills to analyze and prioritize becomes very important, particularly for those in leadership roles.

A thorough problem solving process is likely to deliver multiple solutions and you may have several different problems you wish to solve simultaneously. Prioritization is the ability to measure the importance, value, and effectiveness of those possible solutions and choose which to enact and in what order. The process of prioritization is integral in ensuring the biggest challenges are addressed with the most impactful solutions.

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

Project management

Some problem solving skills are utilized in a workshop or ideation phases, while others come in useful when it comes to decision making. Overseeing an entire problem solving process and ensuring its success requires strong project management skills. 

While project management incorporates many of the other skills listed here, it is important to note the distinction of considering all of the factors of a project and managing them successfully. Being able to negotiate with stakeholders, manage tasks, time and people, consider costs and ROI, and tie everything together is massively helpful when going through the problem solving process. 

Record keeping

Working out meaningful solutions to organizational challenges is only one part of the process.  Thoughtfully documenting and keeping records of each problem solving step for future consultation is important in ensuring efficiency and meaningful change. 

For example, some problems may be lower priority than others but can be revisited in the future. If the team has ideated on solutions and found some are not up to the task, record those so you can rule them out and avoiding repeating work. Keeping records of the process also helps you improve and refine your problem solving model next time around!

Personal Kanban   #gamestorming   #action   #agile   #project planning   Personal Kanban is a tool for organizing your work to be more efficient and productive. It is based on agile methods and principles.

Research skills

Conducting research to support both the identification of problems and the development of appropriate solutions is important for an effective process. Knowing where to go to collect research, how to conduct research efficiently, and identifying pieces of research are relevant are all things a good researcher can do well. 

In larger groups, not everyone has to demonstrate this ability in order for a problem solving workshop to be effective. That said, having people with research skills involved in the process, particularly if they have existing area knowledge, can help ensure the solutions that are developed with data that supports their intention. Remember that being able to deliver the results of research efficiently and in a way the team can easily understand is also important. The best data in the world is only as effective as how it is delivered and interpreted.

Customer experience map   #ideation   #concepts   #research   #design   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   Customer experience mapping is a method of documenting and visualizing the experience a customer has as they use the product or service. It also maps out their responses to their experiences. To be used when there is a solution (even in a conceptual stage) that can be analyzed.

Risk management

Managing risk is an often overlooked part of the problem solving process. Solutions are often developed with the intention of reducing exposure to risk or solving issues that create risk but sometimes, great solutions are more experimental in nature and as such, deploying them needs to be carefully considered. 

Managing risk means acknowledging that there may be risks associated with more out of the box solutions or trying new things, but that this must be measured against the possible benefits and other organizational factors. 

Be informed, get the right data and stakeholders in the room and you can appropriately factor risk into your decision making process. 

Decisions, Decisions…   #communication   #decision making   #thiagi   #action   #issue analysis   When it comes to decision-making, why are some of us more prone to take risks while others are risk-averse? One explanation might be the way the decision and options were presented.  This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky’s classic study , illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions . The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant’s decision.

Team-building 

No single person is as good at problem solving as a team. Building an effective team and helping them come together around a common purpose is one of the most important problem solving skills, doubly so for leaders. By bringing a team together and helping them work efficiently, you pave the way for team ownership of a problem and the development of effective solutions. 

In a problem solving workshop, it can be tempting to jump right into the deep end, though taking the time to break the ice, energize the team and align them with a game or exercise will pay off over the course of the day.

Remember that you will likely go through the problem solving process multiple times over an organization’s lifespan and building a strong team culture will make future problem solving more effective. It’s also great to work with people you know, trust and have fun with. Working on team building in and out of the problem solving process is a hallmark of successful teams that can work together to solve business problems.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity   #ice breaker   #teambuilding   #team   #remote-friendly   9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members. There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Time management 

The problem solving process is designed to lead a team from identifying a problem through to delivering a solution and evaluating its effectiveness. Without effective time management skills or timeboxing of tasks, it can be easy for a team to get bogged down or be inefficient.

By using a problem solving model and carefully designing your workshop, you can allocate time efficiently and trust that the process will deliver the results you need in a good timeframe.

Time management also comes into play when it comes to rolling out solutions, particularly those that are experimental in nature. Having a clear timeframe for implementing and evaluating solutions is vital for ensuring their success and being able to pivot if necessary.

Improving your skills at problem solving is often a career-long pursuit though there are methods you can use to make the learning process more efficient and to supercharge your problem solving skillset.

Remember that the skills you need to be a great problem solver have a large overlap with those skills you need to be effective in any role. Investing time and effort to develop your active listening or critical thinking skills is valuable in any context. Here are 7 ways to improve your problem solving skills.

Share best practices

Remember that your team is an excellent source of skills, wisdom, and techniques and that you should all take advantage of one another where possible. Best practices that one team has for solving problems, conducting research or making decisions should be shared across the organization. If you have in-house staff that have done active listening training or are data analysis pros, have them lead a training session. 

Your team is one of your best resources. Create space and internal processes for the sharing of skills so that you can all grow together. 

Ask for help and attend training

Once you’ve figured out you have a skills gap, the next step is to take action to fill that skills gap. That might be by asking your superior for training or coaching, or liaising with team members with that skill set. You might even attend specialized training for certain skills – active listening or critical thinking, for example, are business-critical skills that are regularly offered as part of a training scheme.

Whatever method you choose, remember that taking action of some description is necessary for growth. Whether that means practicing, getting help, attending training or doing some background reading, taking active steps to improve your skills is the way to go.

Learn a process 

Problem solving can be complicated, particularly when attempting to solve large problems for the first time. Using a problem solving process helps give structure to your problem solving efforts and focus on creating outcomes, rather than worrying about the format. 

Tools such as the seven-step problem solving process above are effective because not only do they feature steps that will help a team solve problems, they also develop skills along the way. Each step asks for people to engage with the process using different skills and in doing so, helps the team learn and grow together. Group processes of varying complexity and purpose can also be found in the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques . Using a tried and tested process and really help ease the learning curve for both those leading such a process, as well as those undergoing the purpose.

Effective teams make decisions about where they should and shouldn’t expend additional effort. By using a problem solving process, you can focus on the things that matter, rather than stumbling towards a solution haphazardly. 

Create a feedback loop

Some skills gaps are more obvious than others. It’s possible that your perception of your active listening skills differs from those of your colleagues. 

It’s valuable to create a system where team members can provide feedback in an ordered and friendly manner so they can all learn from one another. Only by identifying areas of improvement can you then work to improve them. 

Remember that feedback systems require oversight and consideration so that they don’t turn into a place to complain about colleagues. Design the system intelligently so that you encourage the creation of learning opportunities, rather than encouraging people to list their pet peeves.

While practice might not make perfect, it does make the problem solving process easier. If you are having trouble with critical thinking, don’t shy away from doing it. Get involved where you can and stretch those muscles as regularly as possible. 

Problem solving skills come more naturally to some than to others and that’s okay. Take opportunities to get involved and see where you can practice your skills in situations outside of a workshop context. Try collaborating in other circumstances at work or conduct data analysis on your own projects. You can often develop those skills you need for problem solving simply by doing them. Get involved!

Use expert exercises and methods

Learn from the best. Our library of 700+ facilitation techniques is full of activities and methods that help develop the skills you need to be an effective problem solver. Check out our templates to see how to approach problem solving and other organizational challenges in a structured and intelligent manner.

There is no single approach to improving problem solving skills, but by using the techniques employed by others you can learn from their example and develop processes that have seen proven results. 

Try new ways of thinking and change your mindset

Using tried and tested exercises that you know well can help deliver results, but you do run the risk of missing out on the learning opportunities offered by new approaches. As with the problem solving process, changing your mindset can remove blockages and be used to develop your problem solving skills.

Most teams have members with mixed skill sets and specialties. Mix people from different teams and share skills and different points of view. Teach your customer support team how to use design thinking methods or help your developers with conflict resolution techniques. Try switching perspectives with facilitation techniques like Flip It! or by using new problem solving methodologies or models. Give design thinking, liberating structures or lego serious play a try if you want to try a new approach. You will find that framing problems in new ways and using existing skills in new contexts can be hugely useful for personal development and improving your skillset. It’s also a lot of fun to try new things. Give it a go!

Encountering business challenges and needing to find appropriate solutions is not unique to your organization. Lots of very smart people have developed methods, theories and approaches to help develop problem solving skills and create effective solutions. Learn from them!

Books like The Art of Thinking Clearly , Think Smarter, or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow are great places to start, though it’s also worth looking at blogs related to organizations facing similar problems to yours, or browsing for success stories. Seeing how Dropbox massively increased growth and working backward can help you see the skills or approach you might be lacking to solve that same problem. Learning from others by reading their stories or approaches can be time-consuming but ultimately rewarding.

A tired, distracted mind is not in the best position to learn new skills. It can be tempted to burn the candle at both ends and develop problem solving skills outside of work. Absolutely use your time effectively and take opportunities for self-improvement, though remember that rest is hugely important and that without letting your brain rest, you cannot be at your most effective. 

Creating distance between yourself and the problem you might be facing can also be useful. By letting an idea sit, you can find that a better one presents itself or you can develop it further. Take regular breaks when working and create a space for downtime. Remember that working smarter is preferable to working harder and that self-care is important for any effective learning or improvement process.

Want to design better group processes?

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Over to you

Now we’ve explored some of the key problem solving skills and the problem solving steps necessary for an effective process, you’re ready to begin developing more effective solutions and leading problem solving workshops.

Need more inspiration? Check out our post on problem solving activities you can use when guiding a group towards a great solution in your next workshop or meeting. Have questions? Did you have a great problem solving technique you use with your team? Get in touch in the comments below. We’d love to chat!

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Problem Solving Interventions: An Opportunity for Hospice Social Workers to Better Meet Caregiver Needs

Explaining the role of social work has been a traditional challenge for the profession. Social workers are often solicited by patients, clients, and even colleagues to define and explain their role. “What is a social worker?”, “how could I use one?”, “why do I need one?”, and “what can you do for me?” are all questions frequently asked of social workers, regardless of setting. Hospice social workers are no different. The role of the social worker on the hospice interdisciplinary team and the role with patients are often confused and blurred with nurses and chaplains ( MacDonald, 1991 ; Reese & Brown, 1997 ). In hospice, collaboration among team members often requires disciplinary responsibilities to overlap, making the challenge of defining social work perhaps even greater.

The ambiguous nature of the role of social work in hospice care is due in part to the lack of standardized assessment across the hospice setting. Initial assessments with patients and families vary greatly among hospice programs and sometimes among practitioners within the same hospice. While all social workers are required by Medicare Conditions of Participation (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 2008) to conduct an initial assessment of patients and families, the components of that assessment are not specified ( Reese & Raymer, 2004 ). Reliable and valid standardized instruments, such as the geriatric depression scale, are not commonly used by hospice social workers ( Parker Oliver, Wittenberg-Lyles, Washington, & Sehrawat, 2009 ). Unlike the numeric pain scale or other tools for pain assessment supporting the nurses, hospice social workers have not agreed upon ways to measure the psychosocial issues facing their clients. While some within the hospice social work community have developed standardized assessment tools --the Social Work Assessment Tool ( Reese et al., 2006 ) is one example--their adoption has been limited. The lack of standardized assessment often results in an unfocused intervention ( Parker Oliver, et al., 2009 ). Unfocused interventions can leave hospice social workers with an ambiguous identity on the team, unable to articulate their role in terms understood by the medical team members, and unable to determine the effectiveness of their work.

The purpose of this essay is to describe one common social work intervention and discuss its applicability for hospice social workers. We suggest a problem solving intervention (PSI), coupled with the use of standardized instruments to aid in assessment and evaluation of outcomes. This intervention provides a standardized practice approach for hospice social workers and should be further investigated.

Problem Solving Theory

Problem solving can be defined as a self-directed process aimed at identifying solutions for specific problems encountered in daily life ( D'Zurilla & Nezu, 2007 ). The premise of this approach is that problems, identified by an individual, can be addressed with an active cognitive process to find a solution. PSI combines this premise with a rational model of stress as outlined by Lazarus ( R. S. Lazarus, Kanner, & Folkman, 1980 ). Lazarus contends that stress is influenced by an individual's cognitive appraisal of a situation and his or her ability to effectively cope with the challenges it presents ( R. Lazarus, 1999 ). PSI assesses individuals' problem solving tendencies and teaches behavioral change thereby influencing both cognitive appraisal and coping.

D'Zurilla and Nezu (2007) propose a problem solving approach that encourages individuals to modify their thinking about stressors and address problems using four related steps. This approach has been summarized by the acronym ADAPT (Attitude, Define, Alternatives, Predict, and Try out). Before embarking on the four steps, individuals are encouraged to adopt an optimistic attitude toward their ability to effectively problem solve. Then, they are guided through a problem solving process in which they clearly define the problem(s) they are facing, generate a list of alternative solutions, weigh the pros and cons of each alternative, and implement the solution most likely to be effective. This structured approach teaches individuals a skill set that can carry over to future problems.

Researchers have tested PSI with a variety of individuals facing different problems. In a recent randomized controlled trial in the home health care setting, PSI was used as a standardized intervention with home care clients to address depression ( Gellis et al., 2008 ). To address the common problem of depression in home health caregivers, social workers systematically assessed caregivers for depression and used structured PSI as an intervention. The data showed that augmenting traditional home care with six weeks of PSI significantly lessened depression and increased problem solving ability in caregivers. In addition to finding significant improvement in depression, the home care caregivers perceived the intervention positively. Research showing the positive effect of PSI includes work with caregivers of physically and cognitively impaired older adults ( Gallagher-Thompson et al., 2000 ), caregivers of dementia patients ( Robers et al., 1999 ), and caregivers of children with traumatic brain injury ( Wade, Wolfe, & Brown, 2005 ). This research suggests PSI is also applicable in the hospice setting.

This research team has applied PSI to hospice caregivers ( Demiris et al., 2010 ). In a pilot study we used brief PSI in hospice caregivers and found the therapy assisted in lowering anxiety, improving problem solving abilities, and improving quality of life. Likewise, PSI was satisfying for caregivers and feasible to deliver in a home care setting. In this case, PSI was delivered by four different interventionists, two nurses and two social workers. The interventionist made an initial visit to consent the caregiver into the study, administer the assessment instruments, and ask the caregiver to identify a problem to work through from a standard problem list. For example, one caregiver chose to work on finding ways to keep the patient from wandering in the night, and another identified her exhaustion as a problem. During following 4–6 weeks the interventionist made two additional visits to the caregiver's home to teach the problem solving process, using the identified problem as an exemplar to teach the ADAPT skills. During a final visit to measure outcomes, the interventionist also interviewed the caregivers about their experience. Without intentional protocol design to address the role of social workers, seven caregivers made comments pertaining specifically to the role of social workers. These caregiver comments are worthy of discussion and attention, as they provide additional evidence of the need for focused social work interventions and a clear, recognized social work role on the hospice team. Caregiver comments were a result of the interventionist asking a general question about the communication between the caregiver and the hospice.

Confirming the confusion about the social worker role and involvement in care, one caregiver stated, “The social worker, she doesn't come every week, she comes maybe once a month”. Similarly, another responded:

I suppose I could call the social worker, I haven't done that, but the nurse, she calls me about every week, and in a way I think she might be an alarmist or something, truly she has her own issues. Her father is elderly in [remote city] or somewhere and she is dealing with that, so I don't know, maybe I would recommend that the social worker make contact with me on a regular basis so she can kind of oversee everything.

This caregiver went on to note confusion with many different hospice staff, including the social worker. Additionally, she is indicating that perhaps the weekly calls from the nurse are too frequent.

Yes, one time, let me see, it's so confusing there was a lot of different people, there was a nurse and an intake social worker and then there was going to be the real social worker that was going to come every week or every two weeks … and the nurse was going to come every week. I've never even met them, I don't think, because there are so many people involved, I don't believe I've even ever met the regular social worker, I've only met the intake social worker and the intake nurse, and I was there when the nurse made her first visit, so she's stayed in contact with me.

Likewise, yet another caregiver was struggling with how to respond to the social worker stating:

Well, they always ask how you are doing, so I say fine. They want to find out how you are doing emotionally. I wonder how many people … the hospital releases people to hospice and things don't go well, …I don't know, I've never looked it up or the statistics or anything like that, but I wonder because every single person says,” how are you guys doing”. I say,” oh we're good, how should we be doing?” I wondered about that you know.

Throughout the study, caregivers expressed surprise that they, rather than the patients, were the focus of our study . This surprise was apparent in the exit interview. In contrast, two caregivers noted that their understanding of the role of the social worker was that he or she would be more focused on the patient than on them. When asked about the communication between the caregiver and the hospice, two caregivers stated:

I'd say that's not so good in the sense that I mean our whole focus is on Judy [the patient] and they are real nice, it's not that, but I think the social worker is of the group the most concerned with the aspects of hospice and caregiving. I'd say the nurse much less, but not inappropriate, I'd say it's not a criticism as much as an observation. The social worker spends more time with us about the needs of the patient, so you see what I'm saying, even the social worker spends more time with us than the nurse, but it is still focused on the patient. Basically they give us things to do, you know call us if you need something, but then you're still kind of left, every time you meet somebody new or something, you don't know. You think does this meet the level of bother you criteria, so you don't know. So even though they are trying to be nice and they leave at that, you know here's the 24 hour number and we are always staffed.

Finally, two caregivers discussed the benefits of the PSI with the interventionists, comparing that experience to their social work visits. One caregiver noted that the PSI accomplished her problem solving quickly, while the social work visit was less efficient,

Yeah, I mean, you know, we took like three hours to come and accomplish what we've done, or four but, I mean, the amount of payback and comfort I got from this, you know, it was kind of peak intervention. It was a big bang for a buck.

In yet another interview the final caregiver noted:

Caregiver: Yes, maybe it was my fault, because I'm always so Mom-orientated that I never brought up my needs to … the social worker about needing more respite help and she's been really good at trying to help me with some of these issues, but I don't think I could have gone as far with her help as I have with this program you've given me, in fact we just kept talking the problem over you know we weren't really getting going here. Interviewer: Getting through it? Caregiver: Yes, getting through it.

In summary, these comments suggest that the PSI delivered by the interventionist provided a regular, focused intervention which was understandable and helpful in contrast to the less regular and less focused social work visit. Given the potential benefit of PSI, the delivery of this brief structured intervention with caregivers is worthy of consideration for use in hospice.

Implications for Policy, Practice, and Research

While this paper is not meant to be a presentation of research, one outcome of our study is the indication that the regular structured use of a PSI should be investigated more thoroughly for use by hospice social workers. The use of PSI holds promise as a social work intervention with hospice patients and caregivers, and can add to the overall effectiveness of the team. It also offers the opportunity for formal assessment and documentation of caregiver concerns and for reassessment and measurement of the outcome. By embracing the clinical roots of the profession and the problem based assessments which are a part of clinical training, social workers have an opportunity to better articulate their identity and role on the team, which in turn will be embraced and better understood by patients and families. Social workers are the appropriate team members to focus on caregivers, and this brief structured intervention has the potential to accomplish this work.

Further research is needed to build the evidence of the effectiveness of PSI in hospice as well as to understand the impact of its use on social workers. Randomized clinical trials of PSI in hospice are feasible and specific evaluation of the impact of PSI on the role and understanding to social workers is also an important component of that research. As policy makers create regulations for social workers, the need to more clearly require social workers to move from an ambiguous role as team member and care provider, to an integrated and understood member of the team is critical. Social workers have a responsibility to provide valid and reliable assessment, develop and communicate their interventions, and respond regularly to the needs of not only hospice patients, but also, and perhaps especially hospice caregivers.

Acknowledgments

This study was funded by the NIH National Institute of Nursing Research Grant Nr. R21 NR010744-01 (A Technology Enhanced Nursing Intervention for Hospice Caregivers, Demiris PI).

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Math Interventions

  • Introduction
  • Subitizing Interventions
  • Counting Interventions: Whole Numbers Less Than 30
  • Counting Interventions: Whole Numbers Greater Than 30 (Place Value)
  • Counting Interventions: Fractions
  • Counting Interventions: Decimals
  • Composing and Decomposing Numbers Interventions
  • Rounding Interventions
  • Number Sense Lesson Plans
  • Addition and Subtraction Facts
  • Multiplication and Division Facts
  • Computational Fluency Lesson Plans
  • Understanding the Problem Interventions
  • Planning and Executing a Solution Interventions
  • Monitoring Progress & Reflecting on a Solution Interventions
  • Problem-Solving Process Interventions

Problem-Solving Process

Response to error: using the problem-solving process, feedback during the lesson, strategies to try after the lesson.

  • Problem-Solving Lesson Plans
  • Identifying Essential Variables Interventions
  • Direct Models Interventions
  • Counting On/Back Interventions
  • Deriving Interventions
  • Interpreting the Results Interventions
  • Mathematical Modeling Lesson Plans
  • Math Rules and Concepts Interventions
  • Math Rules and Concepts Lesson Plans

A student who has difficulty understanding the problem, planning and executing a solution , self-monitoring progress toward a goal, and evaluating a solution will benefit from intervention around the problem-solving process. The following interventions  support  students  in internalizing this process from start to finish. This page includes intervention strategies that you can use to support your students in this area. Remember, if you're teaching a full process from start to finish, you probably want to use the Self-Regulated Strategy Development approach, which spreads explicit instruction of a full process across a series of intervention lessons.  As you read, consider which of these interventions best aligns with your student's strengths and needs in the whole-learner domains.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development 

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (or SRSD) is one way to teach the problem-solving process. The SRSD model "requires teachers to explicitly teach students the use of the strategy, to model the strategy, to cue students to use the strategy, and to scaffold instruction to gradually allow the student to become an independent strategy user." (Reid, Leinemann, & Hagaman, 2013). The steps of teaching SRSD are slightly different from the steps of explicit instruction because, in SRSD, each step must be mastered before the next one is started. For example, you might spend an entire lesson on Developing Background Knowledge before moving on to Discuss It (see below). The longterm goal of SRSD is for students to be able carry out the strategy independently, and so time is dedicated to teaching each step of the strategy in such a manner as enables students to internalize the material. 

Teaching SRSD model requires six steps:

  • Develop Background Knowledge. Define the key ideas that students need to know in order to apply the strategy.
  • Discuss It. Tell the student what the strategy is called, and describe each step.
  • Model It. Use a think-aloud to demonstrate the strategy.
  • Memorize It . Internalize strategy.
  • Support It. Gradually release responsibility to students.
  • Independent performance. Give students opportunities to practice strategy without support.

SRSD Explicit Instruction Six-Step Model: 

To support your students' ability to apply SRSD, you should start by explicitly teaching the six-step model. Keep in mind that this type of explicit instruction may take place over a number of days. 

Step 1: Set the Context for Student Learning and Develop Background Knowledge.  

  • Introduce Word Problem Mnemonics, and discuss the use of the mnemonic: "Today you will be learning a new trick to help you solve problems. This strategy is called CUBES." (Teacher gets out chart paper and markers and writes down C, U , B, E, and S vertically.) "CUBES is a self-regulated strategy, which means that you will learn to memorize the strategy and use it without my support. Let's go through each step of CUBES and see how it will help you go through the problem-solving process. First, C-Circle the Numbers" (Teacher write this next to C.) "U - Underline important words." (Teacher writes next to U.)  B- Box the question " (Teache r writes next to B). E- Eliminate unnecessary information. S - Solve and Check. (Teacher writes these terms next to E and S). "Now, what do we need to know when we are doing CUBES?  We need to know which words are important. We also need to eliminate unnecessary information" (Teacher goes on to define these terms.)

Step 2: Discuss It. 

  • Discuss the significance and benefits of using CUBES. Discuss and determine goals for using the strategy. At this point, students can examine their past work to set an individual goal: "So, how is a self-regulated strategy going to help us? Well, it gives us an easy way to remember the five steps to solving the problem. How else does it help us?" (Teacher elicits student responses.) "When we are using a SRSD, we ask ourselves questions to make sure we are following the steps. We call these self-statements.  My self-statements are 'What's my first step?' and 'What am I supposed to do now?' I ask myself self-statements so I can make sure that I am using each step of the strategy, and that I don't miss any steps." (Teacher and students discuss benefits of self-statements.)  "Now let's take some time to set goals for using this strategy...." (Teacher and students set goals, such as "students will each have two self-statements they use when employing the CUBE strategy.")

Step 3: Model It.

  • The teacher models the strategy using think alouds and self-statements: "Watch as I show you what CUBES looks like when I use it. See if you can notice my self-statements. What am I supposed to do? I'm supposed to to follow the five steps to solve a problem. What is my first step? C. That's right, C. I need to circle the numbers. I'll do that now, and then check that off my CUBE S  list. (Teacher circles numbers). Okay, I'm going to check my CUBES list again. I've already completed C. Now, on to U. I have to Underline important words. (Teacher continues to model the entire CUBES process with 1- 3 problems. The session ends. Teacher starts Model It with new problems on Day 2.)

Step 4: Memorize It . 

  • Students memorize the mnemonic and each of the steps of CUBES. The idea is that the students will not be able to implement the strategy if they cannot recall the steps. "Next, we are are going to take some time to memorize each step. What is C?" "Circle the numbers!"What is U?" (Teacher completes this process for all the letters. At this time, students also write the mnemonic down so they can use it as a reference. If they need to, they can come up with a beat or a chant to remember the mnemonic.)

Step 5: Support It.

  • In step 5, the teacher gradually releases responsibility to the students. This is the most important stage, especially for struggling readers. In order for students to be able to implement this strategy on their own, they must be supported as needed. Graham, Harris, Mason, and Friedlander (2008), SRSD experts and authors, often tell their teachers, "Please Don't P.E.E. in the Classroom - P ost, E xplain, E xpect. Success with SRSD depends on using all the stages for students who have difficulty with [reading]." SRSD instruction and implementation are only successful when students are given multiple opportunities to practice using their strategy with teacher support before trying it on their own.  "Let's read the next problem and do CUBES together this time..." Teacher follows the steps of gradual release to transfer responsibility to students. The teacher first engages students with guided support. She might read the problem and allow students to complete different parts of the strategy. Then, students might do CUBES in groups. This part of the strategy might take multiple days, until students are effectively completing the strategy by using self-statements. 

Step 6: Independent Practice

  • In the final step, students practice using the strategy independently. "Now, you are ready to use CUBES on your own! Remember to use your self-statements, like What do I do next? and What am I supposed to do now? and I'll look at my CUBES sheet to see what I do next. as you employ this strategy!" Teacher circulates and provides support for students who are not yet ready to work independently.  

Activity A: Word Problem Mnemonics

One way to support your student's problem-solving ability is to teach her a mnemonic for a series of steps to take whenever she encounters a story problem. The following brief, developed by the Evidence Based Intervention Network at the University of Missouri, describes this strategy. As you read, consider how each mnemonic breaks down the problem-solving process.

Click here  to read the brief. 

Word Problem Mnemonics in Action

In the video below, Emily Art explicitly models how to use the word mnemonic, CUBES, to teach the problem solving process.

As you watch, consider: How do mnemonics support a student's ability to independently carry out the problem solving process?

Another strategy to use to teach your student the problem-solving process is called Self-Organizing Questions. Gifford (2005) advocates for teaching students a series of questions to ask themselves that will guide them through the problem-solving process. Read through each prompt below and consider its purpose. 

  • Getting to Grips:  What are we trying to do?
  • Connecting to Prior Knowledge:  Have we done anything like this before?
  • Planning:  What do we need?
  • Considering Alternative Methods:  Is there another way?
  • Monitoring Progress:  How does it look so far?
  • Evaluating Solutions:  Does it work?   How can we check? Can we make it better?

  Self-Organizing Questions in Action 

Give the student a problem. Then, go through the six self-organizing questions to guide the student through the problem-solving process. This example refers to the problem below. 

Lamont had 14 pumpkin seeds. He also had 32 apple seeds. He planted 41 of the seeds. How many seeds did Lamont have left?

Teacher: We are going to use the self-organizing questions to solve this problem. Frank, what are we trying to do?

Frank: We are trying to figure out how many seeds Lamont has left, after he plants the pumpkin and apple seeds.

Teacher: Let's think about similar problems we've had in the past. Have we done anything like this before?

Frank: Yes, yesterday, we solved a problem about how many baseball and soccer balls Jamie had. 

Teacher: So, what do we need to do to plan to solve this problem?

Frank: We need to add up the total number of seeds, and then subtract how many he planted.

Teacher: Is there another way to solve this problem?

Frank: We could probably draw it, or use manipulatives to help us. 

Teacher: Okay, go ahead and execute it! How does it look so far?

Frank: It's working for me. I added the types of seeds together, which gave me 46. Then, I subtracted the 41 seeds he planted. That gave me 5 seeds leftover, which seems about right. 

Teacher: How can we check our answer?

Frank: I'll see if I can add it back up. My solution was 5, so I'll add that to 41, which gives me 46. Then, I'll add the number of seeds he had total, which gives me 46! So, it matches!

Activity C: Solve It

If your student has particular struggles with understanding the problem, use Solve It, which is an explicit approach to teaching the problem-solving process, with an emphasis on understanding what the problem is about. The following brief, developed by the Evidence Based Intervention Network at the University of Missouri, describes this strategy. As you read, consider how this approach supports student understanding of problems.

Click  here  to read the brief. 

Solve It in Action Read the sample lesson plan (Montague, 2006) below to see what Solve It looks like in action. For your reference, click here to access a  self-regulation script  for students.

SolveItLesson.pdf

Gifford, S. (2005). Teaching mathematics 3-5: Developing learning in the foundation stage. Berkshire:  McGraw-Hill Education. Graham, S., & Harris, K.R. (2005).  Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties.  Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Hughes, E.M. (2011). Intervention Name: Solve It! Columbia, Mo: The Evidence Based Intervention Network, The University of Missouri. Retrieved from https://education.missouri.edu/ebi/math-acquisition/ Hughes, E.M. & Powell, S. (2011). Intervention Name: Word-Problem Mnemonics. Columbia, Mo: The Evidence Based Intervention Network, The University of Missouri. Retrieved from https://education.missouri.edu/ebi/math-acquisition/ Montague, Marjorie. (2006). Self-regulation strategies for better math performance in middle school. In M. Montague and A. Jistendra (Eds.), Teaching mathematics to middle school students with learning disabilities. New York: The Guilford Press.   Reid, R., Lienemann, T. O., & Hagaman, J. L. (2013). Strategy instruction for students with learning disabilities. New York: The Guilford Press.

Think about the following scenario, which takes place after a teacher has explicitly taught a student to use the problem-solving process. The following example refers to the problem below. 

Lamont had 14 pumpkin seeds. He also had 32 apple seeds. He planted 41 of the seeds. How many seeds did Lamont have left?      Teacher: "Now that you understand the problem, what are you doing to do next?"      Student: "Solve it! 41-32 = 9. He had nine seeds left." 

In such a case, what might you do? 

When you are planning your lessons, you should anticipate that your student will make errors throughout. Here are a series of prompts that you can use to respond to errors. Keep in mind that all students are different, and that students might respond better to some types of feedback than to others.

If your student struggles to meet your objective, there are various techniques that you might try in order to adjust the activity so as best to meet your student's needs. 

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PERSPECTIVE article

Problem solving is embedded in context… so how do we measure it.

Katherine T. Rhodes

  • 1 Language Variation and Academic Success (LVAS) Lab, School of Education, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States
  • 2 Science of Learning (SoL) Lab, School of Education, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States
  • 3 Culture and Social Action Lab (CaSA), Department of Psychology, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA, United States

Problem solving encompasses the broad domain of human, goal-directed behaviors. Though we may attempt to measure problem solving using tightly controlled and decontextualized tasks, it is inextricably embedded in both reasoners’ experiences and their contexts. Without situating problem solvers, problem contexts, and our own experiential partialities as researchers, we risk intertwining the research of information relevance with our own confirmatory biases about people, environments, and ourselves. We review each of these ecological facets of information relevance in problem solving, and we suggest a framework to guide its measurement. We ground this framework with concrete examples of ecologically valid, culturally relevant measurement of problem solving.

1 Introduction

As of writing this perspective piece, there exist pockets of the world with ubiquitous internet, fingertip access to generative artificial intelligence, and engagement with global news and commerce, while other humans grapple more regularly with local subsistence farming, climate change, and family social relationships. These are abstracted points of comparison among the incredibly varied social and cultural contexts in which human reasoners must draw from information in their environments to notice problems that need resolution, find relevant information from which to make inferences, and execute problem solutions. This wide variance highlights the deep theoretical and practical challenges of characterizing and measuring problem solving as a pragmatically-grounded, cognitive construct.

In this perspective piece, we focus on measurement theory for gathering data on the complex cognition that governs humans’ everyday lives, focusing on problem solving in specific. Problem solving broadly encompasses human goal-directed behaviors ( Newell and Simon, 1972 ). Though problem solving may include a variety of goal structures in everyday living (from solving a mathematical problem in a formal educational setting to identifying the need for housework in one’s family context), it is often measured with highly abstracted tasks that attempt to decontextualize problems from the specific in favor of the universal ( Jukes et al., 2024 ).

We posit that measurement of problem solving with recognition of the deeply intertwined nature of reasoning with one’s context necessitates that we must center (a) the experiences and perceptions of the problem solver, (b) the context in which problem solving is being observed, and (c) the lens through which we as observers are interpreting problem solving. Each of these ecological facets influences our interpretations of problem-solving behavior, and each is socioculturally bound. Without situating problem solvers, problem contexts, and our own experiential partialities as researchers, we risk intertwining the research of information relevance with our own confirmatory biases about people, environments, and ourselves. We review each of these ecological facets of information relevance in problem solving, and we suggest a framework to guide ecologically valid, culturally relevant measurement.

2 Centering the relevant experiences and perceptions of the problem solver

We naturally use our problem-solving resources to attend to experientially relevant information, and thus, problem-solving tasks are socioculturally bound to problem solvers ( Oyserman, 2011 , 2016 ). Our measures of problem solving broadly reflect different attentional patterns that are based on prior developmental experiences which differ depending on socialization ( Newell and Simon, 1972 ; Ericsson et al., 1993 ). Broadly speaking, this means that the measurement of problem-solving tasks is closely tied to the particular experiences of problem solvers.

Consider, for example, the famous marshmallow experiment ( Mischel, 1961 ; Mischel and Metzner, 1962 ; Mischel and Ebbesen, 1970 ). In this lab-based experimental task, children are given a marshmallow and told that they may eat the treat immediately or wait an unspecified amount of time and receive additional marshmallows as a reward. Performance on the marshmallow task has typically been interpreted to indicate ability to delay gratification, (i.e., inhibitory control), and it has been linked to later academic performance, self-confidence, likelihood of subsequent substance abuse, and a variety of other outcomes ( Mischel et al., 1988 , 1989 ; Shoda et al., 1990 ; Ayduk et al., 2000 ). Thus, the researcher-identified problem of the marshmallow task is (1) the identification of the marshmallow as a reward, (2) the decision to engage in a desired goal-oriented behavior (waiting) to obtain the reward, and then (3) the execution of the desired goal-oriented behavior (engaging inhibitory control in order to wait).

However, some researchers have raised concerns about the interpretation of performance on the marshmallow task, in particular, questioning what we might reasonably infer about the relevant pieces of information that children use to execute decision-making about whether or not to wait. For example, Kidd et al. (2013) found evidence that children’s rational decision-making about the reliability of the experimental environment (and by implication, their prior experiences with reliable and unreliable environments) may also influence their decisions to delay gratification comparably to their individual differences in capacity for self-control.

Other researchers have noted that the “The Marshmallow Test” may simply be a culturally loaded problem-solving task with narrow expectations about children’s behavior and ways of solving the problem. For example, Yucatec Maya children are often engaged in real-life productive activities, are motivated to contribute, and allowed to take the initiative to solve problems they encounter ( Gaskins, 2020 ; Cervera-Montejano, 2022 ). When encountering novel problems, they are expected to be attentive and learn by observing others and not just by listening to verbal instructions ( Alcalá et al., 2021 ). However, when Gaskins tried to replicate this study with Yucatec Maya children, she found that none of the six children she tested earned the second marshmallow ( Gaskins and Alcalá, 2023 ). Two of them ate the treat, and four of them left the room. Gaskins attributes their marshmallow task performance differences to the cultural assumptions in the methodology, such as the expectation that children will obediently attend to and follow adult’s instructions. The children who left the room did not leave because they were tempted to eat the marshmallow – which assumes poor self-regulation – but they left because “they saw no ‘good reason’ to sit alone in a room for a long time doing nothing, rejecting the basic premise of the task.” (p. 8). Gaskins and Alcalá (2023) results illustrate that participants’ perceptions about adult authority, expectations for child compliance, and familiarity with verbal instructions are also relevant and often overlooked aspects of the marshmallow experiment.

The marshmallow task illustrates that the same contextual cues may be interpreted very differently by different experimental participants because prior experiences influence our expectations, beliefs, and ultimately, our mental representations of the problems we are solving. Lab-based problem-solving tasks like the marshmallow task have the advantages of being tightly controlled, but they are also decontextualized, adult-generated, and assume child compliance based on the lived experiences and rules familiar to White, middle-class children ( Jukes et al., 2024 ). Examining psychological constructs and tasks across contexts can help illuminate characteristics of problem-solving tasks that may be reflecting culturally-derived experiences and socialized expectations.

3 Centering the sociocultural context in which problem solving is being observed

The sociocultural context in which problem solving is being observed helps define the parameters of the problem being solved, which in turn influences the pieces of information that may be relevant to its effective solution. Consider, for example, the sociocultural norms that contextualize children’s helping behaviors in their homes and communities. Helping behaviors are also goal-oriented, problem-solving behaviors that are prosocial in nature – they require the identification of a social problem (the need for help to occur), the formulation of a solution (selecting the kind of help that will remedy the identified issue), and the execution of a solution (engaging in helping until a desired goal has been reached). In many Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) societies, children are viewed as the recipients of help rather than as independent, helpful agents in their communities ( Ochs and Izquierdo, 2009 ). However, in communities where children are socialized to provide substantial contributions to their families, taking the initiative to help with complex household tasks and to assist during community celebrations, the contextual expectations around problem solving might be quite different ( Rogoff, 1990 ; Chavajay and Rogoff, 2002 ).

During a visit to Yucatan, Alcalá (2023) observed how children are given extensive amounts of autonomy to decide how to spend their time, including helping with household work and engaging in unstructured play activities. In this context, children are expected to notice when there is a problem and act accordingly to find the appropriate solution ( Alcalá and Cervera, 2022 ). Mothers state that children need to learn to be autonomous because they might not always be with adults or others that can help them, and need to learn to solve the problems they encounter.

Alcalá et al. (2021) asked children why they help at home and the majority of them reported that they help because helping is a shared responsibility of all family members, they help because they like to help, or they help because they notice work that needs to be done. The cultural expectations to be attentive to their surroundings, to be autonomous and self-directed in choosing activities, and to notice work and problems in need of solution is key in how children in this community learn to solve problems. For example, children notice that there are some dirty dishes and will go and wash the dishes, or they might notice that the plants need to be watered.

The shared responsibility to help and solve problems, opens other opportunities for children to identify and solve problems in their communities. For example, children might notice or hear about a family member who is ill, and they volunteer to help with chores that would normally be done by the ailing adult as illustrated by “ Soledad ” (Chan Cah, age 10) “my mom’s foot hurt and that is why I help” ( Alcalá et al., 2021 , p.).

Furthermore, when asked what would happen if they do not help, about half of the participants responded in a way that reflected a community-minded way of solving problems. Children indicated that if they do not help, for example with washing the dishes, then the pile of dirty dishes will get bigger and then someone else would have to wash the dishes. Likewise, if a child does not help with the milpa (corn field) there might not be enough corn for the family.

In this context, where children are allowed to be present and observe almost all of the activities of the household and community, children are expected to become interested and notice when someone needs help ( López Fraire et al., 2024 ). Children are trusted enough to solve certain problems on their own, or know when to find help, as they are becoming competent members of their communities.

The sociocultural context helps to dictate what is a problem, who is affected by the consequences of the problem, and who is allowed, expected, and empowered to solve the problem. Importantly, the sociocultural context also determines the level at which problems exist - Not all problems belong to the individual as is often assumed in highly individualistic societies ( Oyserman et al., 2002 ; Arieli and Sagiv, 2018 ). In many problem-solving contexts across the world, problems, their consequences, and the responsibility for solving them belong to groups and communities of problem-solvers ( Lasker and Weiss, 2003 ).

4 Discussion

4.1 how do we measure problem solving: considering the lens of the research observer.

For many researchers, the measurement of problem solving may appear to be a primarily methodological issue at first glance ( Messick, 1981 ). We create tasks, observe individual differences in task performance, and assign interpretations for those differences. The measures are assumed to be objective, empirical, quantitative metrics of performance – Child X ate marshmallow Y after Z minutes of waiting, therefore failing to delay gratification with additional marshmallows (see Mischel et al., 1988 ). However, without the guidance of strong theoretical postulates about constructs, and without clear links between theoretical postulates and the measures designed to capture constructs of interest, we are asking our measures to do the work of specifying larger theoretical models ( Borsboom, 2005 ).

Our measures reflect our theoretical dispositions, and our theories reflect ourselves. The lens through which we generally interpret cognitive development is culturally misaligned with the majority of the world’s problem solvers and problem-solving contexts, and our measures of problem solving reflect that epistemological misalignment. As researchers who are primarily from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies, our lens for understanding and measuring human behavior is WEIRD ( Henrich et al., 2010 ). Problem solving is no exception and has traditionally been measured in WEIRD ways with WEIRD problem solvers, which can misrepresent developmental phenomena that may not replicate with children from other sociocultural backgrounds or lived contexts (e.g., for evidence of this in the above marshmallow task, see Watts et al., 2018 ). These traditional measures of problem solving do not account for potential sociocultural differences in information processing that can derive from the nature of the task requirements to the cultural context of how children should speak with adults. For problem solving measures, one must step back to consider that even the definition for what constitutes a problem that a participant has the authority to solve is cultural, with measures tending to be based on WEIRD researchers’ known context, which can lead to bias then in solution rates and participants’ engagements. Thus, it is unsurprising that children who are not from WEIRD communities or who are marginalized within WEIRD societies may perform differently on traditional measures of problem solving (see for example, Miller-Cotto et al., 2022 ).

If our aim is to capture problem solving in ways that have meaningful implications for the real world information processing, we need to measure problem solving in ways that are culturally relevant for broad populations of children. This aim is critical for problem-solving research, and it necessitates an epistemological (and possibly an ontological) recentering of our measurement of problem solving.

4.2 Framework for ecologically valid, culturally relevant measurement

There is a growing push to measure human problem solving “in context,” in ways that are ecologically valid (see for example Burgess et al., 2006 ; Miller and Scholnick, 2015 ); however, contextualized tasks can still evidence the same biases that create validity issues for traditional, abstract, decontextualized tasks. The field has a pressing need for a framework that helps researchers to evaluate problem-solving tasks in ways that consider their relevant features from the perspective of diverse learners. To support an evolution in the fields of reasoning and problem solving that better centers tasks and measurement on the abilities executed by reasoners in their everyday worlds, we propose a set of questions that researchers can ask when developing a task to better ensure relevance and alignment between test participants, researchers, and the interpretation of empirical data.

4.2.1 Understanding problem solvers’ relevant experiences

4.2.1.1 how are reasoners perceiving the problem.

✓ Assume that the problem solver’s solution is predicated on the kind of mental representation she has formed about the problem.

⃠ Avoid assuming that problem solvers perceive the same goal-structure, have the same mental representation of the problem, or have the same reasoning and approach to solving the problem. Problem solvers are NOT necessarily attending to the researchers’ desired matrix of information when thinking about the problem.

★ Forexample, Rhodes et al. (under review) research on the mathematical problem solving of African American children who use African American English dialect (AAE; a cultural dialect of American English) explored the types of errors that children make on various arithmetic problems as a function of both item formatting and the density of children’s AAE dialect usage. The very exploration of this research question runs counter to the assumption that word formatting and children’s home language would have no impact on African American children’s mental representations of problems and strategic approaches to solving them. Results suggested that children’s strategic errors occurred as a complex interaction between word problem formatting and children’s AAE dialect density, effectively challenging the assumption that word problems would elicit language neutral mental representations with African American children whose home and community language systems were linguistically distanced from them.

4.2.1.2 What does unexpected or “non-normative” task performance mean?

✓ Assume that divergence from a normative expectation is not necessarily indicative of pathology or lack of skill.

⃠ Avoid assuming that we manage attentional resources during problem solving in one, normative way. In particular, avoid the assumption that problem solving is maladaptive – instead, look for the adaptive response in the way that you interpret the problem solving.

★ Forexample, a child who does not concentrate fully on a problem solving task they have been given, but instead is also directing attention toward monitoring the experimenter’s actions and conversations with another child, may be exhibiting highly culturally appropriate and intentional resource allocation to ensure they are not missing a need to learn new relevant information or assist the experimenter (e.g., Correa-Chávez et al., 2005 ). Challenging the assumption that the management of attentional resources should happen in one, normative, culturally-sanctioned way, creates the opportunity for researchers to recognize important sources of cultural variance in otherwise invisible aspects of task construction (i.e., prosocial attentional engagement as a means of identifying information relevance).

4.2.2 Considering socio-cultural contexts of problem solving

4.2.2.1 where do problems occur.

✓ Assume that there are no neutral contexts for problem solving. The “lab” (a tightly controlled experimental context) is not, in fact, neutral.

⃠ Avoid assuming that the most meaningful problems we solve occur in formal educational settings or in tightly controlled experimental settings.

★ Forexample, in his landmark study of Brazilian child candy sellers, Saxe (1988) used a multimethod paradigm to observe and query the naturalistic mathematical behaviors of children in- and out-of-classroom mathematics problem-solving contexts. In challenging the assumption that normative mathematical problem solving only develops in formal educational contexts, he observed that the skills children used in their street vending activities did not necessarily transfer to their school contexts and vice versa, and importantly, that children who were quite adept at using mathematics in their real-world vending activities were not necessarily able to translate their skills toward high-achievement on formal educational tasks ( Saxe, 1988 ).

4.2.2.2 For whom is the problem consequential? and relatedly, who is empowered to solve the problem in this context?

✓ Assume that problem solving is not necessarily an individual sport - individuals, groups, and communities may identify problems, problem consequences, and problem solvers very differently.

⃠ Avoid assuming that problem solving should only be conceptualized and measured at the individual level. Similarly, avoid the assumption that cultural expectations for problem solving converge around efficiency (i.e., quickly and accurately; careless mistakes may have important consequences beyond an individual).

★ Forexample, when asked why they help with household chores, most Yucatec Maya children mentioned that if they did not do the chore, this would create more work for their parents or cause harm to others including younger siblings or aging adults ( Alcalá and Cervera, 2022 ). In challenging individualistic assumptions about measuring problem solving, these researchers were able to capture children’s mental representations of problems and problem consequences as belonging to the entire household, rather than assigning the responsibility for problem solving to a household’s individual members.

4.2.3 Evaluating researchers’ perspectives of problem solving

4.2.3.1 how does the observer’s positionality influence the evaluation of problem solving.

✓ Assume that positionality is something we can and should acknowledge, particularly if we are evaluating the problem-solving abilities of others.

⃠ Avoid assuming that researchers have the same positionality as research participants or groups to whom research is generalized (see for example, Bilgen et al., 2021 ; Patton and Winter, 2023 ).

★ Forexample, Patton and Winter (2023) provide a detailed and reflexive account of researcher positionality and decision-making in engaging in an observational study with preschool-aged children. These researchers consider the use of a teddy bear named “Ted” as an elicitation tool for gathering information about children’s perspectives and contextual experiences of early childhood educational settings. In examining their own positionalities, the authors were able to interrogate the inherent power structure between adults and children in traditional research participation paradigms. This consideration of positionality helped inform the researchers’ decision to embed “Ted” into children’s preschool contexts in meaningful ways that allowed children to engage with him as a peer, including him in activities and songs, helping him, or even explaining mistakes to him in the role of experts.

4.2.3.2 What can we infer from a reasoner’s problem-solving actions?

✓ Assume that the interpretation of problem-solving actions will be influenced by the problem solver, the context for problem solving, and the research observer.

⃠ Avoid assuming that a particular measurement instrument is contextually neutral or culturally unbiased. It is critical that we acknowledge the fact that measurement instruments are also NOT free of positionality. They exist in the context of larger epistemologies that influence their design, application, and interpretation.

★ Forexample, many laboratory tasks assume that children are familiar with and willing to follow adults’ instructions, even if the tasks do not accomplish readily apparent goals such as care or feeding. These tasks then may yield biased conclusions when used with children from communities which value autonomy over decision-making, specifically where respect for children’s ability to decide about their participation in activities means they are not required to obey adults; such children may perform poorly on these types of tasks or refuse to follow the researcher’s instructions ( Jukes et al., 2024 ).

5 Conclusion

We argue that problem solving is fundamentally and inextricably tied to deeper, often implicit, questions of epistemology, which need to be made explicit to facilitate its meaningful measurement. This philosophical work cannot be undertaken during methodological decision-making alone. Rather, if we hope to validly and reliably measure problem solving, we must also formulate strong theoretical positions about what it is, how it operates across various contexts of interest, and how we may observe it – all of which must be integrated and mapped onto specifications of our models of measurement. For as illustrated by the difficulties in interpreting performance on the marshmallow task, children with various prior experiences, in various sociocultural contexts, may have vastly different experiences of problem-solving the same task.

To be clear, rigorous measurement of information relevance in problem solving does not require that we abandon the empirical tenets of modern measurement theory. Nor does it require the rejection of the thoughtful positionality critiques of critical theorists. Rigorous research of problem solving requires the careful consideration of these seemingly irreconcilable epistemologies and, where possible, the integration of them in research design and interpretation.

Measuring problem solving “in context” does not necessarily remedy the issue of culturally biased measurement because contextualized for one group may be decontextualized (and biased) for another group. The wide variance in our experiences and contexts may necessitate admission that there may not be a perfect, unbiased measure of human problem solving, and the best measure for one’s particular research perspective will likely have shortcomings. Still, rigorous measurement of information relevance in problem solving demands that we acknowledge these shortcomings and interpret performance with sensitivity to them. The authors recognize that this process is not easy. We grapple with this in our own work; however, we believe that the process of grappling with these epistemological issues is central to the evolution of our research.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author contributions

KR: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. LR: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. LA: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing.

The author(s) declare that financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant no. NSF 2141411.

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Suzanne Gaskins, Ella Rose, and Lina Brodsky for substantive conversations that supported the development of these arguments.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: problem solving, measurement, information relevance, ecological validity, cultural relevance

Citation: Rhodes KT, Richland LE and Alcalá L (2024) Problem solving is embedded in context… so how do we measure it? Front. Psychol . 15:1380178. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1380178

Received: 01 February 2024; Accepted: 26 April 2024; Published: 17 May 2024.

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Copyright © 2024 Rhodes, Richland and Alcalá. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Katherine T. Rhodes, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

  • Open access
  • Published: 11 May 2024

Nursing students’ stressors and coping strategies during their first clinical training: a qualitative study in the United Arab Emirates

  • Jacqueline Maria Dias 1 ,
  • Muhammad Arsyad Subu 1 ,
  • Nabeel Al-Yateem 1 ,
  • Fatma Refaat Ahmed 1 ,
  • Syed Azizur Rahman 1 , 2 ,
  • Mini Sara Abraham 1 ,
  • Sareh Mirza Forootan 1 ,
  • Farzaneh Ahmad Sarkhosh 1 &
  • Fatemeh Javanbakh 1  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  322 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Understanding the stressors and coping strategies of nursing students in their first clinical training is important for improving student performance, helping students develop a professional identity and problem-solving skills, and improving the clinical teaching aspects of the curriculum in nursing programmes. While previous research have examined nurses’ sources of stress and coping styles in the Arab region, there is limited understanding of these stressors and coping strategies of nursing students within the UAE context thereby, highlighting the novelty and significance of the study.

A qualitative study was conducted using semi-structured interviews. Overall 30 students who were undergoing their first clinical placement in Year 2 at the University of Sharjah between May and June 2022 were recruited. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and analyzed for themes.

During their first clinical training, nursing students are exposed to stress from different sources, including the clinical environment, unfriendly clinical tutors, feelings of disconnection, multiple expectations of clinical staff and patients, and gaps between the curriculum of theory classes and labatories skills and students’ clinical experiences. We extracted three main themes that described students’ stress and use of coping strategies during clinical training: (1) managing expectations; (2) theory-practice gap; and (3) learning to cope. Learning to cope, included two subthemes: positive coping strategies and negative coping strategies.

Conclusions

This qualitative study sheds light from the students viewpoint about the intricate interplay between managing expectations, theory practice gap and learning to cope. Therefore, it is imperative for nursing faculty, clinical agencies and curriculum planners to ensure maximum learning in the clinical by recognizing the significance of the stressors encountered and help students develop positive coping strategies to manage the clinical stressors encountered. Further research is required look at the perspective of clinical stressors from clinical tutors who supervise students during their first clinical practicum.

Peer Review reports

Nursing education programmes aim to provide students with high-quality clinical learning experiences to ensure that nurses can provide safe, direct care to patients [ 1 ]. The nursing baccalaureate programme at the University of Sharjah is a four year program with 137 credits. The programmes has both theoretical and clinical components withs nine clinical courses spread over the four years The first clinical practicum which forms the basis of the study takes place in year 2 semester 2.

Clinical practice experience is an indispensable component of nursing education and links what students learn in the classroom and in skills laboratories to real-life clinical settings [ 2 , 3 , 4 ]. However, a gap exists between theory and practice as the curriculum in the classroom differs from nursing students’ experiences in the clinical nursing practicum [ 5 ]. Clinical nursing training places (or practicums, as they are commonly referred to), provide students with the necessary experiences to ensure that they become proficient in the delivery of patient care [ 6 ]. The clinical practicum takes place in an environment that combines numerous structural, psychological, emotional and organizational elements that influence student learning [ 7 ] and may affect the development of professional nursing competencies, such as compassion, communication and professional identity [ 8 ]. While clinical training is a major component of nursing education curricula, stress related to clinical training is common among students [ 9 ]. Furthermore, the nursing literature indicates that the first exposure to clinical learning is one of the most stressful experiences during undergraduate studies [ 8 , 10 ]. Thus, the clinical component of nursing education is considered more stressful than the theoretical component. Students often view clinical learning, where most learning takes place, as an unsupportive environment [ 11 ]. In addition, they note strained relationships between themselves and clinical preceptors and perceive that the negative attitudes of clinical staff produce stress [ 12 ].

The effects of stress on nursing students often involve a sense of uncertainty, uneasiness, or anxiety. The literature is replete with evidence that nursing students experience a variety of stressors during their clinical practicum, beginning with the first clinical rotation. Nursing is a complex profession that requires continuous interaction with a variety of individuals in a high-stress environment. Stress during clinical learning can have multiple negative consequences, including low academic achievement, elevated levels of burnout, and diminished personal well-being [ 13 , 14 ]. In addition, both theoretical and practical research has demonstrated that increased, continual exposure to stress leads to cognitive deficits, inability to concentrate, lack of memory or recall, misinterpretation of speech, and decreased learning capacity [ 15 ]. Furthermore, stress has been identified as a cause of attrition among nursing students [ 16 ].

Most sources of stress have been categorized as academic, clinical or personal. Each person copes with stress differently [ 17 ], and utilizes deliberate, planned, and psychological efforts to manage stressful demands [ 18 ]. Coping mechanisms are commonly termed adaptation strategies or coping skills. Labrague et al. [ 19 ] noted that students used critical coping strategies to handle stress and suggested that problem solving was the most common coping or adaptation mechanism used by nursing students. Nursing students’ coping strategies affect their physical and psychological well-being and the quality of nursing care they offer. Therefore, identifying the coping strategies that students use to manage stressors is important for early intervention [ 20 ].

Studies on nursing students’ coping strategies have been conducted in various countries. For example, Israeli nursing students were found to adopt a range of coping mechanisms, including talking to friends, engaging in sports, avoiding stress and sadness/misery, and consuming alcohol [ 21 ]. Other studies have examined stress levels among medical students in the Arab region. Chaabane et al. [ 15 ], conducted a systematic review of sudies in Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Oman, Palestine and Bahrain, and reported that stress during clinical practicums was prevalent, although it could not be determined whether this was limited to the initial clinical course or occurred throughout clinical training. Stressors highlighted during the clinical period in the systematic review included assignments and workload during clinical practice, a feeling that the requirements of clinical practice exceeded students’ physical and emotional endurance and that their involvement in patient care was limited due to lack of experience. Furthermore, stress can have a direct effect on clinical performance, leading to mental disorders. Tung et al. [ 22 ], reported that the prevalence of depression among nursing students in Arab countries is 28%, which is almost six times greater than the rest of the world [ 22 ]. On the other hand, Saifan et al. [ 5 ], explored the theory-practice gap in the United Arab Emirates and found that clinical stressors could be decreased by preparing students better for clinical education with qualified clinical faculty and supportive preceptors.

The purpose of this study was to identify the stressors experienced by undergraduate nursing students in the United Arab Emirates during their first clinical training and the basic adaptation approaches or coping strategies they used. Recognizing or understanding different coping processes can inform the implementation of corrective measures when students experience clinical stress. The findings of this study may provide valuable information for nursing programmes, nurse educators, and clinical administrators to establish adaptive strategies to reduce stress among students going clinical practicums, particularly stressors from their first clinical training in different healthcare settings.

A qualitative approach was adopted to understand clinical stressors and coping strategies from the perspective of nurses’ lived experience. Qualitative content analysis was employed to obtain rich and detailed information from our qualitative data. Qualitative approaches seek to understand the phenomenon under study from the perspectives of individuals with lived experience [ 23 ]. Qualitative content analysis is an interpretive technique that examines the similarities and differences between and within different areas of text while focusing on the subject [ 24 ]. It is used to examine communication patterns in a repeatable and systematic way [ 25 ] and yields rich and detailed information on the topic under investigation [ 23 ]. It is a method of systematically coding and categorizing information and comprises a process of comprehending, interpreting, and conceptualizing the key meanings from qualitative data [ 26 ].

Setting and participants

This study was conducted after the clinical rotations ended in April 2022, between May and June in the nursing programme at the College of Health Sciences, University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates. The study population comprised undergraduate nursing students who were undergoing their first clinical training and were recruited using purposive sampling. The inclusion criteria for this study were second-year nursing students in the first semester of clinical training who could speak English, were willing to participate in this research, and had no previous clinical work experience. The final sample consisted of 30 students.

Research instrument

The research instrument was a semi structured interview guide. The interview questions were based on an in-depth review of related literature. An intensive search included key words in Google Scholar, PubMed like the terms “nursing clinical stressors”, “nursing students”, and “coping mechanisms”. Once the questions were created, they were validated by two other faculty members who had relevant experience in mental health. A pilot test was conducted with five students and based on their feedback the following research questions, which were addressed in the study.

How would you describe your clinical experiences during your first clinical rotations?

In what ways did you find the first clinical rotation to be stressful?

What factors hindered your clinical training?

How did you cope with the stressors you encountered in clinical training?

Which strategies helped you cope with the clinical stressors you encountered?

Data collection

Semi-structured interviews were chosen as the method for data collection. Semi structured interviews are a well-established approach for gathering data in qualitative research and allow participants to discuss their views, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs in a positive environment [ 27 ]. This approach allows for flexibility in questioning thereby ensuring that key topics related to clinical learning stressors and coping strategies would be explored. Participants were given the opportunity to express their views, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs in a positive environment, encouraging open communication. These semi structured interviews were conducted by one member of the research team (MAS) who had a mental health background, and another member of the research team who attended the interviews as an observer (JMD). Neither of these researchers were involved in teaching the students during their clinical practicum, which helped to minimize bias. The interviews took place at the University of Sharjah, specifically in building M23, providing a familiar and comfortable environment for the participant. Before the interviews were all students who agreed to participate were provided with an explanation of the study’s purpose. The time and location of each interview were arranged. Before the interviews were conducted, all students who provided consent to participate received an explanation of the purpose of the study, and the time and place of each interview were arranged to accommodate the participants’ schedules and preferences. The interviews were conducted after the clinical rotation had ended in April, and after the final grades had been submitted to the coordinator. The timings of the interviews included the month of May and June which ensured that participants have completed their practicum experience and could reflect on the stressors more comprehensively. The interviews were audio-recorded with the participants’ consent, and each interview lasted 25–40 min. The data were collected until saturation was reached for 30 students. Memos and field notes were also recorded as part of the data collection process. These additional data allowed for triangulation to improve the credibility of the interpretations of the data [ 28 ]. Memos included the interviewers’ thoughts and interpretations about the interviews, the research process (including questions and gaps), and the analytic progress used for the research. Field notes were used to record the interviewers’ observations and reflections on the data. These additional data collection methods were important to guide the researchers in the interpretation of the data on the participants’ feelings, perspectives, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. Finally, member checking was performed to ensure conformability.

Data analysis

The study used the content analysis method proposed by Graneheim and Lundman [ 24 ]. According to Graneheim and Lundman [ 24 ], content analysis is an interpretive technique that examines the similarities and differences between distinct parts of a text. This method allows researchers to determine exact theoretical and operational definitions of words, phrases, and symbols by elucidating their constituent properties [ 29 ]. First, we read the interview transcripts several times to reach an overall understanding of the data. All verbatim transcripts were read several times and discussed among all authors. We merged and used line-by-line coding of words, sentences, and paragraphs relevant to each other in terms of both the content and context of stressors and coping mechanisms. Next, we used data reduction to assess the relationships among themes using tables and diagrams to indicate conceptual patterns. Content related to stress encountered by students was extracted from the transcripts. In a separate document, we integrated and categorized all words and sentences that were related to each other in terms of both content and context. We analyzed all codes and units of meaning and compared them for similarities and differences in the context of this study. Furthermore, the emerging findings were discussed with other members of the researcher team. The final abstractions of meaningful subthemes into themes were discussed and agreed upon by the entire research team. This process resulted in the extraction of three main themes in addition to two subthemes related to stress and coping strategies.

Ethical considerations

The University of Sharjah Research Ethics Committee provided approval to conduct this study (Reference Number: REC 19-12-03-01-S). Before each interview, the goal and study procedures were explained to each participant, and written informed consent was obtained. The participants were informed that participation in the study was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the study at any time. In the event they wanted to withdraw from the study, all information related to the participant would be removed. No participant withdrew from the study. Furthermore, they were informed that their clinical practicum grade would not be affected by their participation in this study. We chose interview locations in Building M23that were private and quiet to ensure that the participants felt at ease and confident in verbalizing their opinions. No participant was paid directly for involvement in this study. In addition, participants were assured that their data would remain anonymous and confidential. Confidentiality means that the information provided by participants was kept private with restrictions on how and when data can be shared with others. The participants were informed that their information would not be duplicated or disseminated without their permission. Anonymity refers to the act of keeping people anonymous with respect to their participation in a research endeavor. No personal identifiers were used in this study, and each participant was assigned a random alpha-numeric code (e.g., P1 for participant 1). All digitally recorded interviews were downloaded to a secure computer protected by the principal investigator with a password. The researchers were the only people with access to the interview material (recordings and transcripts). All sensitive information and materials were kept secure in the principal researcher’s office at the University of Sharjah. The data will be maintained for five years after the study is completed, after which the material will be destroyed (the transcripts will be shredded, and the tapes will be demagnetized).

In total, 30 nursing students who were enrolled in the nursing programme at the Department of Nursing, College of Health Sciences, University of Sharjah, and who were undergoing their first clinical practicum participated in the study. Demographically, 80% ( n  = 24) were females and 20% ( n  = 6) were male participants. The majority (83%) of study participants ranged in age from 18 to 22 years. 20% ( n  = 6) were UAE nationals, 53% ( n  = 16) were from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, while 20% ( n  = 6) hailed from Africa and 7% ( n  = 2) were of South Asian descent. 67% of the respondents lived with their families while 33% lived in the hostel. (Table  1 )

Following the content analysis, we identified three main themes: (1) managing expectations, (2) theory-practice gap and 3)learning to cope. Learning to cope had two subthemes: positive coping strategies and negative coping strategies. An account of each theme is presented along with supporting excerpts for the identified themes. The identified themes provide valuable insight into the stressors encountered by students during their first clinical practicum. These themes will lead to targeted interventions and supportive mechanisms that can be built into the clinical training curriculum to support students during clinical practice.

Theme 1: managing expectations

In our examination of the stressors experienced by nursing students during their first clinical practicum and the coping strategies they employed, we identified the first theme as managing expectations.

The students encountered expectations from various parties, such as clinical staff, patients and patients’ relatives which they had to navigate. They attempted to fulfil their expectations as they progressed through training, which presented a source of stress. The students noted that the hospital staff and patients expected them to know how to perform a variety of tasks upon request, which made the students feel stressed and out of place if they did not know how to perform these tasks. Some participants noted that other nurses in the clinical unit did not allow them to participate in nursing procedures, which was considered an enormous impediment to clinical learning, as noted in the excerpt below:

“…Sometimes the nurses… They will not allow us to do some procedures or things during clinical. And sometimes the patients themselves don’t allow us to do procedures” (P5).

Some of the students noted that they felt they did not belong and felt like foreigners in the clinical unit. Excerpts from the students are presented in the following quotes;

“The clinical environment is so stressful. I don’t feel like I belong. There is too little time to build a rapport with hospital staff or the patient” (P22).

“… you ask the hospital staff for some guidance or the location of equipment, and they tell us to ask our clinical tutor …but she is not around … what should I do? It appears like we do not belong, and the sooner the shift is over, the better” (P18).

“The staff are unfriendly and expect too much from us students… I feel like I don’t belong, or I am wasting their (the hospital staff’s) time. I want to ask questions, but they have loads to do” (P26).

Other students were concerned about potential failure when working with patients during clinical training, which impacted their confidence. They were particularly afraid of failure when performing any clinical procedures.

“At the beginning, I was afraid to do procedures. I thought that maybe the patient would be hurt and that I would not be successful in doing it. I have low self-confidence in doing procedures” (P13).

The call bell rings, and I am told to answer Room No. XXX. The patient wants help to go to the toilet, but she has two IV lines. I don’t know how to transport the patient… should I take her on the wheelchair? My eyes glance around the room for a wheelchair. I am so confused …I tell the patient I will inform the sister at the nursing station. The relative in the room glares at me angrily … “you better hurry up”…Oh, I feel like I don’t belong, as I am not able to help the patient… how will I face the same patient again?” (P12).

Another major stressor mentioned in the narratives was related to communication and interactions with patients who spoke another language, so it was difficult to communicate.

“There was a challenge with my communication with the patients. Sometimes I have communication barriers because they (the patients) are of other nationalities. I had an experience with a patient [who was] Indian, and he couldn’t speak my language. I did not understand his language” (P9).

Thus, a variety of expectations from patients, relatives, hospital staff, and preceptors acted as sources of stress for students during their clinical training.

Theme 2: theory-practice gap

Theory-practice gaps have been identified in previous studies. In our study, there was complete dissonance between theory and actual clinical practice. The clinical procedures or practices nursing students were expected to perform differed from the theory they had covered in their university classes and skills lab. This was described as a theory–practice gap and often resulted in stress and confusion.

“For example …the procedures in the hospital are different. They are different from what we learned or from theory on campus. Or… the preceptors have different techniques than what we learned on campus. So, I was stress[ed] and confused about it” (P11).

Furthermore, some students reported that they did not feel that they received adequate briefing before going to clinical training. A related source of stress was overload because of the volume of clinical coursework and assignments in addition to clinical expectations. Additionally, the students reported that a lack of time and time management were major sources of stress in their first clinical training and impacted their ability to complete the required paperwork and assignments:

“…There is not enough time…also, time management at the hospital…for example, we start at seven a.m., and the handover takes 1 hour to finish. They (the nurses at the hospital) are very slow…They start with bed making and morning care like at 9.45 a.m. Then, we must fill [out] our assessment tool and the NCP (nursing care plan) at 10 a.m. So, 15 only minutes before going to our break. We (the students) cannot manage this time. This condition makes me and my friends very stressed out. -I cannot do my paperwork or assignments; no time, right?” (P10).

“Stressful. There is a lot of work to do in clinical. My experiences are not really good with this course. We have a lot of things to do, so many assignments and clinical procedures to complete” (P16).

The participants noted that the amount of required coursework and number of assignments also presented a challenge during their first clinical training and especially affected their opportunity to learn.

“I need to read the file, know about my patient’s condition and pathophysiology and the rationale for the medications the patient is receiving…These are big stressors for my learning. I think about assignments often. Like, we are just focusing on so many assignments and papers. We need to submit assessments and care plans for clinical cases. We focus our time to complete and finish the papers rather than doing the real clinical procedures, so we lose [the] chance to learn” (P25).

Another participant commented in a similar vein that there was not enough time to perform tasks related to clinical requirements during clinical placement.

“…there is a challenge because we do not have enough time. Always no time for us to submit papers, to complete assessment tools, and some nurses, they don’t help us. I think we need more time to get more experiences and do more procedures, reduce the paperwork that we have to submit. These are challenges …” (P14).

There were expectations that the students should be able to carry out their nursing duties without becoming ill or adversely affected. In addition, many students reported that the clinical environment was completely different from the skills laboratory at the college. Exposure to the clinical setting added to the theory-practice gap, and in some instances, the students fell ill.

One student made the following comment:

“I was assisting a doctor with a dressing, and the sight and smell from the oozing wound was too much for me. I was nauseated. As soon as the dressing was done, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I asked myself… how will I survive the next 3 years of nursing?” (P14).

Theme 3: learning to cope

The study participants indicated that they used coping mechanisms (both positive and negative) to adapt to and manage the stressors in their first clinical practicum. Important strategies that were reportedly used to cope with stress were time management, good preparation for clinical practice, and positive thinking as well as engaging in physical activity and self-motivation.

“Time management. Yes, it is important. I was encouraging myself. I used time management and prepared myself before going to the clinical site. Also, eating good food like cereal…it helps me very much in the clinic” (P28).

“Oh yeah, for sure positive thinking. In the hospital, I always think positively. Then, after coming home, I get [to] rest and think about positive things that I can do. So, I will think something good [about] these things, and then I will be relieved of stress” (P21).

Other strategies commonly reported by the participants were managing their breathing (e.g., taking deep breaths, breathing slowly), taking breaks to relax, and talking with friends about the problems they encountered.

“I prefer to take deep breaths and breathe slowly and to have a cup of coffee and to talk to my friends about the case or the clinical preceptor and what made me sad so I will feel more relaxed” (P16).

“Maybe I will take my break so I feel relaxed and feel better. After clinical training, I go directly home and take a long shower, going over the day. I will not think about anything bad that happened that day. I just try to think about good things so that I forget the stress” (P27).

“Yes, my first clinical training was not easy. It was difficult and made me stressed out…. I felt that it was a very difficult time for me. I thought about leaving nursing” (P7).

I was not able to offer my prayers. For me, this was distressing because as a Muslim, I pray regularly. Now, my prayer time is pushed to the end of the shift” (P11).

“When I feel stress, I talk to my friends about the case and what made me stressed. Then I will feel more relaxed” (P26).

Self-support or self-motivation through positive self-talk was also used by the students to cope with stress.

“Yes, it is difficult in the first clinical training. When I am stress[ed], I go to the bathroom and stand in the front of the mirror; I talk to myself, and I say, “You can do it,” “you are a great student.” I motivate myself: “You can do it”… Then, I just take breaths slowly several times. This is better than shouting or crying because it makes me tired” (P11).

Other participants used physical activity to manage their stress.

“How do I cope with my stress? Actually, when I get stressed, I will go for a walk on campus” (P4).

“At home, I will go to my room and close the door and start doing my exercises. After that, I feel the negative energy goes out, then I start to calm down… and begin my clinical assignments” (P21).

Both positive and negative coping strategies were utilized by the students. Some participants described using negative coping strategies when they encountered stress during their clinical practice. These negative coping strategies included becoming irritable and angry, eating too much food, drinking too much coffee, and smoking cigarettes.

“…Negative adaptation? Maybe coping. If I am stressed, I get so angry easily. I am irritable all day also…It is negative energy, right? Then, at home, I am also angry. After that, it is good to be alone to think about my problems” (P12).

“Yeah, if I…feel stress or depressed, I will eat a lot of food. Yeah, ineffective, like I will be eating a lot, drinking coffee. Like I said, effective, like I will prepare myself and do breathing, ineffective, I will eat a lot of snacks in between my free time. This is the bad side” (P16).

“…During the first clinical practice? Yes, it was a difficult experience for us…not only me. When stressed, during a break at the hospital, I will drink two or three cups of coffee… Also, I smoke cigarettes… A lot. I can drink six cups [of coffee] a day when I am stressed. After drinking coffee, I feel more relaxed, I finish everything (food) in the refrigerator or whatever I have in the pantry, like chocolates, chips, etc” (P23).

These supporting excerpts for each theme and the analysis offers valuable insights into the specific stressors faced by nursing students during their first clinical practicum. These insights will form the basis for the development of targeted interventions and supportive mechanisms within the clinical training curriculum to better support students’ adjustment and well-being during clinical practice.

Our study identified the stressors students encounter in their first clinical practicum and the coping strategies, both positive and negative, that they employed. Although this study emphasizes the importance of clinical training to prepare nursing students to practice as nurses, it also demonstrates the correlation between stressors and coping strategies.The content analysis of the first theme, managing expectations, paves the way for clinical agencies to realize that the students of today will be the nurses of tomorrow. It is important to provide a welcoming environment where students can develop their identities and learn effectively. Additionally, clinical staff should foster an environment of individualized learning while also assisting students in gaining confidence and competence in their repertoire of nursing skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills [ 8 , 15 , 19 , 30 ]. Another challenge encountered by the students in our study was that they were prevented from participating in clinical procedures by some nurses or patients. This finding is consistent with previous studies reporting that key challenges for students in clinical learning include a lack of clinical support and poor attitudes among clinical staff and instructors [ 31 ]. Clinical staff with positive attitudes have a positive impact on students’ learning in clinical settings [ 32 ]. The presence, supervision, and guidance of clinical instructors and the assistance of clinical staff are essential motivating components in the clinical learning process and offer positive reinforcement [ 30 , 33 , 34 ]. Conversely, an unsupportive learning environment combined with unwelcoming clinical staff and a lack of sense of belonging negatively impact students’ clinical learning [ 35 ].

The sources of stress identified in this study were consistent with common sources of stress in clinical training reported in previous studies, including the attitudes of some staff, students’ status in their clinical placement and educational factors. Nursing students’ inexperience in the clinical setting and lack of social and emotional experience also resulted in stress and psychological difficulties [ 36 ]. Bhurtun et al. [ 33 ] noted that nursing staff are a major source of stress for students because the students feel like they are constantly being watched and evaluated.

We also found that students were concerned about potential failure when working with patients during their clinical training. Their fear of failure when performing clinical procedures may be attributable to low self-confidence. Previous studies have noted that students were concerned about injuring patients, being blamed or chastised, and failing examinations [ 37 , 38 ]. This was described as feeling “powerless” in a previous study [ 7 , 12 ]. In addition, patients’ attitudes towards “rejecting” nursing students or patients’ refusal of their help were sources of stress among the students in our study and affected their self-confidence. Self-confidence and a sense of belonging are important for nurses’ personal and professional identity, and low self-confidence is a problem for nursing students in clinical learning [ 8 , 39 , 40 ]. Our findings are consistent with a previous study that reported that a lack of self-confidence was a primary source of worry and anxiety for nursing students and affected their communication and intention to leave nursing [ 41 ].

In the second theme, our study suggests that students encounter a theory-practice gap in clinical settings, which creates confusion and presents an additional stressors. Theoretical and clinical training are complementary elements of nursing education [ 40 ], and this combination enables students to gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to provide nursing care. This is consistent with the findings of a previous study that reported that inconsistencies between theoretical knowledge and practical experience presented a primary obstacle to the learning process in the clinical context [ 42 ], causing students to lose confidence and become anxious [ 43 ]. Additionally, the second theme, the theory-practice gap, authenticates Safian et al.’s [ 5 ] study of the theory-practice gap that exists United Arab Emirates among nursing students as well as the need for more supportive clinical faculty and the extension of clinical hours. The need for better time availability and time management to complete clinical tasks were also reported by the students in the study. Students indicated that they had insufficient time to complete clinical activities because of the volume of coursework and assignments. Our findings support those of Chaabane et al. [ 15 ]. A study conducted in Saudi Arabia [ 44 ] found that assignments and workload were among the greatest sources of stress for students in clinical settings. Effective time management skills have been linked to academic achievement, stress reduction, increased creativity [ 45 ], and student satisfaction [ 46 ]. Our findings are also consistent with previous studies that reported that a common source of stress among first-year students was the increased classroom workload [ 19 , 47 ]. As clinical assignments and workloads are major stressors for nursing students, it is important to promote activities to help them manage these assignments [ 48 ].

Another major challenge reported by the participants was related to communicating and interacting with other nurses and patients. The UAE nursing workforce and population are largely expatriate and diverse and have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Therefore, student nurses encounter difficulty in communication [ 49 ]. This cultural diversity that students encounter in communication with patients during clinical training needs to be addressed by curriculum planners through the offering of language courses and courses on cultural diversity [ 50 ].

Regarding the third and final theme, nursing students in clinical training are unable to avoid stressors and must learn to cope with or adapt to them. Previous research has reported a link between stressors and the coping mechanisms used by nursing students [ 51 , 52 , 53 ]. In particular, the inability to manage stress influences nurses’ performance, physical and mental health, attitude, and role satisfaction [ 54 ]. One such study suggested that nursing students commonly use problem-focused (dealing with the problem), emotion-focused (regulating emotion), and dysfunctional (e.g., venting emotions) stress coping mechanisms to alleviate stress during clinical training [ 15 ]. Labrague et al. [ 51 ] highlighted that nursing students use both active and passive coping techniques to manage stress. The pattern of clinical stress has been observed in several countries worldwide. The current study found that first-year students experienced stress during their first clinical training [ 35 , 41 , 55 ]. The stressors they encountered impacted their overall health and disrupted their clinical learning. Chaabane et al. [ 15 ] reported moderate and high stress levels among nursing students in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Another study from Bahrain reported that all nursing students experienced moderate to severe stress in their first clinical placement [ 56 ]. Similarly, nursing students in Spain experienced a moderate level of stress, and this stress was significantly correlated with anxiety [ 30 ]. Therefore, it is imperative that pastoral systems at the university address students’ stress and mental health so that it does not affect their clinical performance. Faculty need to utilize evidence-based interventions to support students so that anxiety-producing situations and attrition are minimized.

In our study, students reported a variety of positive and negative coping mechanisms and strategies they used when they experienced stress during their clinical practice. Positive coping strategies included time management, positive thinking, self-support/motivation, breathing, taking breaks, talking with friends, and physical activity. These findings are consistent with those of a previous study in which healthy coping mechanisms used by students included effective time management, social support, positive reappraisal, and participation in leisure activities [ 57 ]. Our study found that relaxing and talking with friends were stress management strategies commonly used by students. Communication with friends to cope with stress may be considered social support. A previous study also reported that people seek social support to cope with stress [ 58 ]. Some students in our study used physical activity to cope with stress, consistent with the findings of previous research. Stretching exercises can be used to counteract the poor posture and positioning associated with stress and to assist in reducing physical tension. Promoting such exercise among nursing students may assist them in coping with stress in their clinical training [ 59 ].

Our study also showed that when students felt stressed, some adopted negative coping strategies, such as showing anger/irritability, engaging in unhealthy eating habits (e.g., consumption of too much food or coffee), or smoking cigarettes. Previous studies have reported that high levels of perceived stress affect eating habits [ 60 ] and are linked to poor diet quality, increased snacking, and low fruit intake [ 61 ]. Stress in clinical settings has also been linked to sleep problems, substance misuse, and high-risk behaviors’ and plays a major role in student’s decision to continue in their programme.

Implications of the study

The implications of the study results can be grouped at multiple levels including; clinical, educational, and organizational level. A comprehensive approach to addressing the stressors encountered by nursing students during their clinical practicum can be overcome by offering some practical strategies to address the stressors faced by nursing students during their clinical practicum. By integrating study findings into curriculum planning, mentorship programs, and organizational support structures, a supportive and nurturing environment that enhances students’ learning, resilience, and overall success can be envisioned.

Clinical level

Introducing simulation in the skills lab with standardized patients and the use of moulage to demonstrate wounds, ostomies, and purulent dressings enhances students’ practical skills and prepares them for real-world clinical scenarios. Organizing orientation days at clinical facilities helps familiarize students with the clinical environment, identify potential stressors, and introduce interventions to enhance professionalism, social skills, and coping abilities Furthermore, creating a WhatsApp group facilitates communication and collaboration among hospital staff, clinical tutors, nursing faculty, and students, enabling immediate support and problem-solving for clinical situations as they arise, Moreover, involving chief nursing officers of clinical facilities in the Nursing Advisory Group at the Department of Nursing promotes collaboration between academia and clinical practice, ensuring alignment between educational objectives and the needs of the clinical setting [ 62 ].

Educational level

Sharing study findings at conferences (we presented the results of this study at Sigma Theta Tau International in July 2023 in Abu Dhabi, UAE) and journal clubs disseminates knowledge and best practices among educators and clinicians, promoting awareness and implementation of measures to improve students’ learning experiences. Additionally we hold mentorship training sessions annually in January and so we shared with the clinical mentors and preceptors the findings of this study so that they proactively they are equipped with strategies to support students’ coping with stressors during clinical placements.

Organizational level

At the organizational we relooked at the available student support structures, including counseling, faculty advising, and career advice, throughout the nursing program emphasizing the importance of holistic support for students’ well-being and academic success as well as retention in the nursing program. Also, offering language courses as electives recognizes the value of communication skills in nursing practice and provides opportunities for personal and professional development.

For first-year nursing students, clinical stressors are inevitable and must be given proper attention. Recognizing nursing students’ perspectives on the challenges and stressors experienced in clinical training is the first step in overcoming these challenges. In nursing schools, providing an optimal clinical environment as well as increasing supervision and evaluation of students’ practices should be emphasized. Our findings demonstrate that first-year nursing students are exposed to a variety of different stressors. Identifying the stressors, pressures, and obstacles that first-year students encounter in the clinical setting can assist nursing educators in resolving these issues and can contribute to students’ professional development and survival to allow them to remain in the profession. To overcome stressors, students frequently employ problem-solving approaches or coping mechanisms. The majority of nursing students report stress at different levels and use a variety of positive and negative coping techniques to manage stress.

The present results may not be generalizable to other nursing institutions because this study used a purposive sample along with a qualitative approach and was limited to one university in the Middle East. Furthermore, the students self-reported their stress and its causes, which may have introduced reporting bias. The students may also have over or underreported stress or coping mechanisms because of fear of repercussions or personal reasons, even though the confidentiality of their data was ensured. Further studies are needed to evaluate student stressors and coping now that measures have been introduced to support students. Time will tell if these strategies are being used effectively by both students and clinical personnel or if they need to be readdressed. Finally, we need to explore the perceptions of clinical faculty towards supervising students in their first clinical practicum so that clinical stressors can be handled effectively.

Data availability

The data sets are available with the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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The authors are grateful to all second year nursing students who voluntarily participated in the study.

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Jacqueline Maria Dias, Muhammad Arsyad Subu, Nabeel Al-Yateem, Fatma Refaat Ahmed, Syed Azizur Rahman, Mini Sara Abraham, Sareh Mirza Forootan, Farzaneh Ahmad Sarkhosh & Fatemeh Javanbakh

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JMD conceptualized the idea and designed the methodology, formal analysis, writing original draft and project supervision and mentoring. MAS prepared the methodology and conducted the qualitative interviews and analyzed the methodology and writing of original draft and project supervision. NY, FRA, SAR, MSA writing review and revising the draft. SMF, FAS, FJ worked with MAS on the formal analysis and prepared the first draft.All authors reviewed the final manuscipt of the article.

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Dias, J.M., Subu, M.A., Al-Yateem, N. et al. Nursing students’ stressors and coping strategies during their first clinical training: a qualitative study in the United Arab Emirates. BMC Nurs 23 , 322 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-01962-5

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How to Talk to an Employee Who Isn’t Meeting Expectations

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It’s an opportunity to address the gap between the work they’re delivering and the company’s goals.

Approaching a conversation about improving an employee’s performance requires preparation, empathy, and a focus on collaboration. Even though hearing the truth about their current performance will be tough and potentially hurtful, it’s a teaching moment managers must embrace to help them become more resilient and adept at problem-solving and developing professional relationships. The author offers several strategies for treating difficult performance conversations not as fault-finding missions, but instead as opportunities to work collaboratively to define a shared commitment to growth and development.

As a leadership and team coach, I frequently encounter situations where managers feel ill-equipped to give their team members negative performance feedback. These conversations can be particularly challenging because the stakes are high for both sides. Unfavorable performance reviews and ratings come with tangible consequences for an employee’s compensation and career progression. Further, if the negative feedback is a surprise to them, it might prompt them to start looking for a new job.

intervention and problem solving goals

  • Jenny Fernandez , MBA, is an executive and team coach, Columbia and NYU faculty, and future of work and brand strategist. She works with senior leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and resilient. Her work spans Fortune 500 companies, startups, and higher education. Jenny has been recognized by LinkedIn as a “Top Voice in Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, and Personal Branding” and was invited to join the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches community. She is a Gen Z advocate. Connect with her on LinkedIn .

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Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and funding: reflections from a digital manufacturing research network

  • Oliver J. Fisher 1 ,
  • Debra Fearnshaw   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6498-9888 2 ,
  • Nicholas J. Watson 3 ,
  • Peter Green 4 ,
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Equal, diverse, and inclusive teams lead to higher productivity, creativity, and greater problem-solving ability resulting in more impactful research. However, there is a gap between equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) research and practices to create an inclusive research culture. Research networks are vital to the research ecosystem, creating valuable opportunities for researchers to develop their partnerships with both academics and industrialists, progress their careers, and enable new areas of scientific discovery. A feature of a network is the provision of funding to support feasibility studies – an opportunity to develop new concepts or ideas, as well as to ‘fail fast’ in a supportive environment. The work of networks can address inequalities through equitable allocation of funding and proactive consideration of inclusion in all of their activities.

This study proposes a strategy to embed EDI within research network activities and funding review processes. This paper evaluates 21 planned mitigations introduced to address known inequalities within research events and how funding is awarded. EDI data were collected from researchers engaging in a digital manufacturing network activities and funding calls to measure the impact of the proposed method.

Quantitative analysis indicates that the network’s approach was successful in creating a more ethnically diverse network, engaging with early career researchers, and supporting researchers with care responsibilities. However, more work is required to create a gender balance across the network activities and ensure the representation of academics who declare a disability. Preliminary findings suggest the network’s anonymous funding review process has helped address inequalities in funding award rates for women and those with care responsibilities, more data are required to validate these observations and understand the impact of different interventions individually and in combination.

Conclusions

In summary, this study offers compelling evidence regarding the efficacy of a research network's approach in advancing EDI within research and funding. The network hopes that these findings will inform broader efforts to promote EDI in research and funding and that researchers, funders, and other stakeholders will be encouraged to adopt evidence-based strategies for advancing this important goal.

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Introduction

Achieving equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is an underpinning contributor to human rights, civilisation and society-wide responsibility [ 1 ]. Furthermore, promoting and embedding EDI within research environments is essential to make the advancements required to meet today’s research challenges [ 2 ]. This is evidenced by equal, diverse and inclusive teams leading to higher productivity, creativity and greater problem-solving ability [ 3 ], which increases the scientific impact of research outputs and researchers [ 4 ]. However, there remains a gap between EDI research and the everyday implementation of inclusive practices to achieve change [ 5 ]. This paper presents and reflects on the EDI measures trialled by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded digital manufacturing research network, Connected Everything (grant number: EP/S036113/1) [ 6 ]. The EPSRC is a UK research council that funds engineering and physical sciences research. By sharing these reflections, this work aims to contribute to the wider effort of creating an inclusive research culture. The perceptions of equality, diversity, and inclusion may vary among individuals. For the scope of this study, the following definitions are adopted:

Equality: Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. No one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.

Diversity: Diversity concerns understanding that each individual is unique, recognising our differences, and exploring these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing way to value each other as individuals.

Inclusion: Inclusion is an effort and practice in which groups or individuals with different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted, welcomed and treated equally. This concerns treating each person as an individual, making them feel valued, and supported and being respectful of who they are.

Research networks have varied goals, but a common purpose is to create new interdisciplinary research communities, by fostering interactions between researchers and appropriate scientific, technological and industrial groups. These networks aim to offer valuable career progression opportunities for researchers, through access to research funding, forming academic and industrial collaborations at network events, personal and professional development, and research dissemination. However, feedback from a 2021 survey of 19 UK research networks, suggests that these research networks are not always diverse, and whilst on the face of it they seem inclusive, they are perceived as less inclusive by minority groups (including non-males, those with disabilities, and ethnic minority respondents) [ 7 ]. The exclusivity of these networks further exacerbates the inequality within the academic community as it prevents certain groups from being able to engage with all aspects of network activities.

Research investigating the causes of inequality and exclusivity has identified several suggestions to make research culture more inclusive, including improving diverse representation within event programmes and panels [ 8 , 9 ]; ensuring events are accessible to all [ 10 ]; providing personalised resources and training to build capacity and increase engagement [ 11 ]; educating institutions and funders to understand and address the barriers to research [ 12 ]; and increasing diversity in peer review and funding panels [ 13 ]. Universities, research institutions and research funding bodies are increasingly taking responsibility to ensure the health of the research and innovation system and to foster inclusion. For example, the EPSRC has set out their own ‘Expectation for EDI’ to promote the formation of a diverse and inclusive research culture [ 14 ]. To drive change, there is an emphasis on the importance of measuring diversity and links to measured outcomes to benchmark future studies on how interventions affect diversity [ 5 ]. Further, collecting and sharing EDI data can also drive aspirations, provide a target for actions, and allow institutions to consider common issues. However, there is a lack of available data regarding the impact of EDI practices on diversity that presents an obstacle, impeding the realisation of these benefits and hampering progress in addressing common issues and fostering diversity and inclusion [ 5 ].

Funding acquisition is important to an academic’s career progression, yet funding may often be awarded in ways that feel unequal and/or non-transparent. The importance of funding in academic career progression means that, if credit for obtaining funding is not recognised appropriately, careers can be damaged, and, as a result of the lack of recognition for those who have been involved in successful research, funding bodies may not have a complete picture of the research community, and are unable to deliver the best value for money [ 15 ]. Awarding funding is often a key research network activity and an area where networks can have a positive impact on the wider research community. It is therefore important that practices are established to embed EDI consideration within the funding process and to ensure that network funding is awarded without bias. Recommendations from the literature to make the funding award process fairer include: ensuring a diverse funding panel; funders instituting reviewer anti-bias training; anonymous review; and/or automatic adjustments to correct for known biases [ 16 ]. In the UK, the government organisation UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), tasked with overseeing research and innovation funding, has pledged to publish data to enhance transparency. This initiative aims to furnish an evidence base for designing interventions and evaluating their efficacy. While the data show some positive signs (e.g., the award rates for male and female PI applicants were equal at 29% in 2020–21), Ottoline Leyser (UKRI Chief Executive) highlights the ‘persistent pernicious disparities for under-represented groups in applying for and winning research funding’ [ 17 ]. This suggests that a more radical approach to rethinking the traditional funding review process may be required.

This paper describes the approach taken by the ‘Connected Everything’ EPSRC-funded Network to embed EDI in all aspects of its research funding process, and evaluates the impact of this ambition, leading to recommendations for embedding EDI in research funding allocation.

Connected everything’s equality diversity and inclusion strategy

Connected Everything aims to create a multidisciplinary community of researchers and industrialists to address key challenges associated with the future of digital manufacturing. The network is managed by an investigator team who are responsible for the strategic planning and, working with the network manager, to oversee the delivery of key activities. The network was first funded between 2016–2019 (grant number: EP/P001246/1) and was awarded a second grant (grant number: EP/S036113/1). The network activities are based around three goals: building partnerships, developing leadership and accelerating impact.

The Connected Everything network represents a broad range of disciplines, including manufacturing, computer science, cybersecurity, engineering, human factors, business, sociology, innovation and design. Some of the subject areas, such as Computer Science and Engineering, tend to be male-dominated (e.g., in 2021/22, a total of 185,42 higher education student enrolments in engineering & technology subjects was broken down as 20.5% Female and 79.5% Male [ 18 ]). The networks also face challenges in terms of accessibility for people with care responsibilities and disabilities. In 2019, Connected Everything committed to embedding EDI in all its network activities and published a guiding principle and goals for improving EDI (see Additional file 1 ). When designing the processes to deliver the second iteration of Connected Everything, the team identified several sources of potential bias/exclusion which have the potential to impact engagement with the network. Based on these identified factors, a series of mitigation interventions were implemented and are outlined in Table  1 .

Connected everything anonymous review process

A key Connected Everything activity is the funding of feasibility studies to enable cross-disciplinary, foresight, speculative and risky early-stage research, with a focus on low technology-readiness levels. Awards are made via a short, written application followed by a pitch to a multidisciplinary diverse panel including representatives from industry. Six- to twelve-month-long projects are funded to a maximum value of £60,000.

The current peer-review process used by funders may reveal the applicants’ identities to the reviewer. This can introduce dilemmas to the reviewer regarding (a) deciding whether to rely exclusively on information present within the application or search for additional information about the applicants and (b) whether or not to account for institutional prestige [ 34 ]. Knowing an applicant’s identity can bias the assessment of the proposal, but by focusing the assessment on the science rather than the researcher, equality is more frequently achieved between award rates (i.e., the proportion of successful applications) [ 15 ]. To progress Connected Everything’s commitment to EDI, the project team created a 2-stage review process, where the applicants’ identity was kept anonymous during the peer review stage. This anonymous process, which is outlined in Fig.  1 , was created for the feasibility study funding calls in 2019 and used for subsequent funding calls.

figure 1

Connected Everything’s anonymous review process [EDI: Equality, diversity, and inclusion]

To facilitate the anonymous review process, the proposal was submitted in two parts: part A the research idea and part B the capability-to-deliver statement. All proposals were first anonymously reviewed by a random selection of two members from the Connected Everything executive group, which is a diverse group of digital manufacturing experts and peers from academia, industry and research institutions that provide guidance and leadership on Connected Everything activities. The reviewers rated the proposals against the selection criteria (see Additional file 1 , Table 1) and provided overall comments alongside a recommendation on whether or not the applicant should be invited to the panel pitch. This information was summarised and shared with a moderation sift panel, made up of a minimum of two Connected Everything investigators and a minimum of one member of the executive group, that tensioned the reviewers’ comments (i.e. comments and evaluations provided by the peer reviewers are carefully considered and weighed against each other) and ultimately decided which proposals to invite to the panel. This tension process included using the identifying information to ensure the applicants did have the capability to deliver the project. If this remained unclear, the applicants were asked to confirm expertise in an area the moderation sift panel thought was key or asked to bring in additional expertise to the project team during the panel pitch.

During stage two the applicants were invited to pitch their research idea to a panel of experts who were selected to reflect the diversity of the community. The proposals, including applicants’ identities, were shared with the panel at least two weeks ahead of the panel. Individual panel members completed a summary sheet at the end of the pitch session to record how well the proposal met the selection criteria (see Additional file 1 , Table 1). Panel members did not discuss their funding decision until all the pitches had been completed. A panel chair oversaw the process but did not declare their opinion on a specific feasibility study unless the panel could not agree on an outcome. The panel and panel chair were reminded to consider ways to manage their unconscious bias during the selection process.

Due to the positive response received regarding the anonymous review process, Connected Everything extended its use when reviewing other funded activities. As these awards were for smaller grant values (~ £5,000), it was decided that no panel pitch was required, and the researcher’s identity was kept anonymous for the entire process.

Data collection and analysis methods

Data collection.

Equality, diversity and inclusion data were voluntarily collected from applicants for Connected Everything research funding and from participants who won scholarships to attend Connected Everything funded activities. Responses to the EDI data requests were collected from nine Connected Everything coordinated activities between 2019 and 2022. Data requests were sent after the applicant had applied for Connected Everything funding or had attended a Connected Everything funded activity. All data requests were completed voluntarily, with reassurance given that completion of the data requested in no way affected their application. In total 260 responses were received, of which the three feasibility study calls comprised 56.2% of the total responses received. Overall, there was a 73.8% response rate.

To understand the diversity of participants engaging with Connected Everything activities and funding, the data requests asked for details of specific diversity characteristics: gender, transgender, disability, ethnicity, age, and care responsibilities. Although sex and gender are terms that are often used interchangeably, they are two different concepts. To clarify, the definitions used by the UK government describe sex as a set of biological attributes that is generally limited to male or female, and typically attributed to individuals at birth. In contrast, gender identity is a social construction related to behaviours and attributes, and is self-determined based on a person’s internal perception, identification and experience. Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth. Respondents were first asked to identify their gender and then whether their gender was different from their birth sex.

For this study, respondents were asked to (voluntarily) self-declare whether they consider themselves to be disabled or not. Ethnicity within the data requests was based on the 2011 census classification system. When reporting ethnicity data, this study followed the AdvanceHE example to aggregate the census categories into six groups to enable benchmarking against the available academic ethnicity data. AdvanceHE is a UK charity that works to improve the higher education system for staff, students and society. However, it was acknowledged that there were limitations with this grouping, including the assumption that minority ethnic staff or students are a homogenous group [ 16 ]. Therefore, this study made sure to breakdown these groups during the discussion of the results. The six groups are:

Asian: Asian/Asian British: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and any other Asian background;

Black: Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: African, Caribbean, and any other Black/African/Caribbean background;

Other ethnic backgrounds, including Arab.

White: all white ethnic groups.

Benchmarking data

Published data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency [ 26 ] (a UK organisation responsible for collecting, analysing, and disseminating data related to higher education institutions and students), UKRI funding data [ 19 , 35 ] and 2011 census data [ 36 ] were used to benchmark the EDI data collected within this study. The responses to the data collected were compared to the engineering and technology cluster of academic disciplines, as this is most represented by Connected Everything’s main funded EPSRC. The Higher Education Statistics Agency defines the engineering and technology cluster as including the following subject areas: general engineering; chemical engineering; mineral, metallurgy & materials engineering; civil engineering; electrical, electronic & computer engineering; mechanical, aero & production engineering and; IT, systems sciences & computer software engineering [ 37 ].

When assessing the equality in funding award rates, previous studies have focused on analysing the success rates of only the principal investigators [ 15 , 16 , 38 ]; however, Connected Everything recognised that writing research proposals is a collaborative task, so requested diversity data from the whole research team. The average of the last six years of published principal investigator and co-investigator diversity data for UKRI and EPSRC funding awards (2015–2021) was used to benchmark the Connected Everything funding data [ 35 ]. The UKRI and EPSRC funding review process includes a peer review stage followed by panel pitch and assessment stage; however, the applicant's track record is assessed during the peer review stage, unlike the Connected Everything review process.

The data collected have been used to evaluate the success of the planned migrations to address EDI factors affecting the higher education research ecosystem, as outlined in Table  1 (" Connected Everything’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion Strategy " Section).

Dominance of small number of research-intensive universities receiving funding from network

The dominance of a small number of research-intensive universities receiving funding from a network can have implications for the field of research, including: the unequal distribution of resources; a lack of diversity of research, limited collaboration opportunities; and impact on innovation and progress. Analysis of published EPSRC funding data between 2015 and 2021 [ 19 ], shows that the funding has been predominately (74.1%, 95% CI [71.%, 76.9%] out of £3.98 billion) awarded to Russell Group universities. The Russell Group is a self-selected association of 24 research-intensive universities (out of the 174 universities) in the UK, established in 1994. Evaluation of the universities that received Connected Everything feasibility study funding between 2016–2019, shows that Connected Everything awarded just over half (54.6%, 95% CI [25.1%, 84.0%] out of 11 awards) to Russell Group universities. Figure  2 shows that the Connected Everything funding awarded to Russell Group universities reduced to 44.4%, 95% CI [12.0%, 76.9%] of 9 awards between 2019–2022.

figure 2

A comparison of funding awarded by EPSRC (total = £3.98 billion) across Russell Group universities and non-Russell Group universities, alongside the allocations for Connected Everything I (total = £660 k) and Connected Everything II (total = £540 k)

Dominance of successful applications from men

The percentage point difference between the award rates of researchers who identified as female, those who declare a disability, or identified as ethnic minority applicants and carers and their respective counterparts have been plotted in Fig.  3 . Bars to the right of the axis mean that the award rate of the female/declared-disability/ethnic-minority/carer applicants is greater than that of male/non- disability/white/not carer applicants.

figure 3

Percentage point (PP) differences in award rate by funding provider for gender, disability status, ethnicity and care responsibilities (data not collected by UKRI and EPSRC [ 35 ]). The total number of applicants for each funder are as follows: Connected Everything = 146, EPSRC = 37,960, and UKRI = 140,135. *The numbers of applicants were too small (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion

Figure  3 (A) shows that between 2015 and 2021 research team applicants who identified as male had a higher award rate than those who identified as female when applying for EPSRC and wider UKRI research council funding. Connected Everything funding applicants who identified as female achieved a higher award rate (19.4%, 95% CI [6.5%, 32.4%] out of 146) compared to male applicants (15.6%, 95% CI [8.8%, 22.4%] out of 146). These data suggest that biases have been reduced by the Connected Everything review process and other mitigation strategies (e.g., visible gender diversity in panel pitch members and publishing CE principal and goals to demonstrate commitment to equality and fairness). This finding aligns with an earlier study that found gender bias during the peer review process, resulting in female investigators receiving less favourable evaluations than their male counterparts [ 15 ].

Over-representation of people identifying as male in engineering and technology academic community

Figure  4 shows the response to the gender question, with 24.2%, 95% CI [19.0%, 29.4%] of 260 responses identifying as female. This aligns with the average for the engineering and technology cluster (21.4%, 95% CI [20.9%, 21.9%] female of 27,740 academic staff), which includes subject areas representative of our main funder, EPSRC [ 22 ]. We also sought to understand the representation of transgender researchers within the network. However, following the rounding policy outlined by UK Government statistics policies and procedures [ 39 ], the number of responses that identified as a different sex to birth was too low (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion.

figure 4

Gender question responses from a total of 260 respondents

Dominance of successful applications from white academics

Figure  3 (C) shows that researchers with a minority ethnicity consistently have a lower award rate than white researchers when applying for EPSRC and UKRI funding. Similarly, the results in Fig.  3 (C) indicate that white researchers are more successful (8.0% percentage point, 95% CI [-8.6%, 24.6%]) when applying for Connected Everything funding. These results indicate that more measures should be implemented to support the ethnic minority researchers applying for Connected Everything funding, as well as sense checking there is no unconscious bias in any of the Connected Everything funding processes. The breakdown of the ethnicity diversity of applicants at different stages of the Connected Everything review process (i.e. all applications, applicants invited to panel pitch and awarded feasibility studies) has been plotted in Fig.  5 to help identify where more support is needed. Figure  5 shows an increase in the proportion of white researchers from 54%, 95% CI [45.4%, 61.8%] of all 146 applicants to 66%, 95% CI [52.8%, 79.1%] of the 50 researchers invited to the panel pitch. This suggests that stage 1 of the Connected Everything review process (anonymous review of written applications) may favour white applicants and/or introduce unconscious bias into the process.

figure 5

Ethnicity questions responses from different stages during the Connected Everything anonymous review process. The total number of applicants is 146, with 50 at the panel stage and 23 ultimately awarded

Under-representation of those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds

Connected Everything appears to have a wide range of ethnic diversity, as shown in Fig.  6 . The ethnicities Asian (18.3%, 95% CI [13.6%, 23.0%]), Black (5.1%, 95% CI [2.4%, 7.7%]), Chinese (12.5%, 95% CI [8.4%, 16.5%]), mixed (3.5%, 95% CI [1.3%, 5.7%]) and other (7.8%, 95% CI [4.5%, 11.1%]) have a higher representation among the 260 individuals engaging with network’s activities, in contrast to both the engineering and technology academic community and the wider UK population. When separating these groups into the original ethnic diversity answers, it becomes apparent that there is no engagement with ‘Black or Black British: Caribbean’, ‘Mixed: White and Black Caribbean’ or ‘Mixed: White and Asian’ researchers within Connected Everything activities. The lack of engagement with researchers from a Caribbean heritage is systemic of a lack of representation within the UK research landscape [ 25 ].

figure 6

Ethnicity question responses from a total of 260 respondents compared to distribution of the 13,085 UK engineering and technology (E&T) academic staff [ 22 ] and 56 million people recorded in the UK 2011 census data [ 36 ]

Under-representation of disabilities, chronic conditions, invisible illnesses and neurodiversity in funded activities and events.

Figure  7 (A) shows that 5.7%, 95% CI [2.4%, 8.9%] of 194 responses declared a disability. This is higher than the average of engineering and technology academics that identify as disabled (3.4%, 95% CI [3.2%, 3.7%] of 27,730 academics). Between Jan-March 2022, 9.0 million people of working age (16–64) within the UK were identified as disabled by the Office for National Statistics [ 40 ], which is 21% of the working age population [ 27 ]. Considering these statistics, there is a stark under-representation of disabilities, chronic conditions, invisible illnesses and neurodiversity amongst engineering and technology academic staff and those engaging in Connected Everything activities.

figure 7

Responses to A  Disability and B  Care responsibilities questions colected from a total of 194 respondents

Between 2015 and 2020 academics that declared a disability have been less successful than academics without a disability in attracting UKRI and EPSRC funding, as shown in Fig.  3 (B). While Fig.  3 (B) shows that those who declare a disability have a higher Connected Everything funding award rate, the number of applicants who declared a disability was too small (< 5) to enable a meaningful discussion regarding this result.

Under-representation of those with care responsibilities in funded activities and events

In response to the care responsibilities question, Fig.  7 (B) shows that 27.3%, 95% CI [21.1%, 33.6%] of 194 respondents identified as carers, which is higher than the 6% of adults estimated to be providing informal care across the UK in a UK Government survey of the 2020/2021 financial year [ 41 ]. However, the ‘informal care’ definition used by the 2021 survey includes unpaid care to a friend or family member needing support, perhaps due to illness, older age, disability, a mental health condition or addiction [ 41 ]. The Connected Everything survey included care responsibilities across the spectrum of care that includes partners, children, other relatives, pets, friends and kin. It is important to consider a wide spectrum of care responsibilities, as key academic events, such as conferences, have previously been demonstrably exclusionary sites for academics with care responsibilities [ 42 ]. Breakdown analysis of the responses to care responsibilities by gender in Fig.  8 reveals that 37.8%, 95% CI [25.3%, 50.3%] of 58 women respondents reported care responsibilities, compared to 22.6%, 95% CI [61.1%, 76.7%] of 136 men respondents. Our findings reinforce similar studies that conclude the burden of care falls disproportionately on female academics [ 43 ].

figure 8

Responses to care responsibilities when grouped by A  136 males and B  58 females

Figure  3 (D) shows that researchers with careering responsibilities applying for Connected Everything funding have a higher award rate than those researchers applying without care responsibilities. These results suggest that the Connected Everything review process is supportive of researchers with care responsibilities, who have faced barriers in other areas of academia.

Reduced opportunities for ECRs

Early-career researchers (ECRs) represent the transition stage between starting a PhD and senior academic positions. EPSRC defines an ECR as someone who is either within eight years of their PhD award, or equivalent professional training or within six years of their first academic appointment [ 44 ]. These periods exclude any career break, for example, due to family care; health reasons; and reasons related to COVID-19 such as home schooling or increased teaching load. The median age for starting a PhD in the UK is 24 to 25, while PhDs usually last between three and four years [ 45 ]. Therefore, these data would imply that the EPSRC median age of ECRs is between 27 and 37 years. It should be noted, however, that this definition is not ideal and excludes ECRs who may have started their research career later in life.

Connected Everything aims to support ECRs via measures that include mentoring support, workshops, summer schools and podcasts. Figure  9 shows a greater representation of researchers engaging with Connected Everything activities that are aged between 30–44 (62.4%, 95% CI [55.6%, 69.2%] of 194 respondents) when compared to the wider engineering and technology academic community (43.7%, 95% CI [43.1%, 44.3%] of 27,780 academics) and UK population (26.9%, 95% CI [26.9%, 26.9%]).

figure 9

Age question responses from a total of 194 respondents compared to distribution of the 27,780 UK engineering and technology (E&T) academic staff [ 22 ] and 56 million people recorded in the UK 2011 census data [ 36 ]

High competition for funding has a greater impact on ECRs

Figure  10 shows that the largest age bracket applying for and winning Connected Everything funding is 31–45, whereas 72%, CI 95% [70.1%, 74.5%] of 12,075 researchers awarded EPSRC grants between 2015 and 2021 were 40 years or older. These results suggest that measures introduced by Connected Everything has been successful at providing funding opportunities for researchers who are likely to be early-mid career stage.

figure 10

Age of researchers at applicant and awarded funding stages for A  Connected Everything between 2019–2022 (total of 146 applicants and 23 awarded) and B  EPSRC funding between 2015–2021 [ 35 ] (total of 35,780 applicants and 12,075 awarded)

The results of this paper provide insights into the impact that Connected Everything’s planned mitigations have had on promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research and funding. Collecting EDI data from individuals who engage with network activities and apply for research funding enabled an evaluation of whether these mitigations have been successful in achieving the intended outcomes outlined at the start of the study, as summarised in Table  2 .

The results in Table  2 indicate that Connected Everything’s approach to EDI has helped achieve the intended outcome to improve representation of women, ECRs, those with a declared disability and black/minority ethnic backgrounds engaging with network events when compared to the engineering and technology academic community. In addition, the network has helped raise awareness of the high presence of researchers with care responsibilities at network events, which can help to track progress towards making future events inclusive and accessible towards these carers. The data highlights two areas for improvement: (1) ensuring a gender balance; and (2) increasing representation of those with declared disabilities. Both these discrepancies are indicative of the wider imbalances and underrepresentation of these groups in the engineering and technology academic community [ 26 ], yet represent areas where networks can strive to make a difference. Possible strategies include: using targeted outreach; promoting greater representation of these groups in event speakers; and going further to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. One barrier that can disproportionately affect women researchers is the need to balance care responsibilities with attending network events [ 46 ]. This was reflected in the Connected Everything data that reported 37.8%, 95% CI [25.3%, 50.3%] of women engaging with network activities had care responsibilities, compared to 22.6%, 95% CI [61.1%, 76.7%] of men. Providing accommodations such as on-site childcare, flexible scheduling, or virtual attendance options can therefore help to promote inclusivity and allow more women researchers to attend.

Only 5.7%, 95% CI [2.4%, 8.9%] of responses engaging with Connected Everything declared a disability, which is higher than the engineering and technology academic community (3.4%, 95% CI [3.2%, 3.7%]) [ 26 ], but unrepresentative of the wider UK population. It has been suggested that academics can be uncomfortable when declaring disabilities because scholarly contributions and institutional citizenship are so prized that they feel they cannot be honest about their issues or health concerns and keep them secret [ 47 ]. In research networks, it is important to be mindful of this hidden group within higher education and ensure that measures are put in place to make the network’s activities inclusive to all. Future considerations for accommodations to improve research events inclusivity include: improving physical accessibility of events; providing assistive technology such as screen readers, audio descriptions, and captioning can help individuals with visual or hearing impairments to access and participate; providing sign language interpreters; offering flexible scheduling options; and the provision of quiet rooms, written materials in accessible formats, and support staff trained to work with individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Connected Everything introduced measures (e.g., anonymised reviewing process, Q&A sessions before funding calls, inclusive design of panel pitch) to help address inequalities in how funding is awarded. Table 2 shows success in reducing the dominance of researchers who identify as male and research-intensive universities in winning research funding and that researchers with care responsibilities were more successful at winning funding than those without care responsibilities. The data revealed that the proposed measures were unable to address the inequality in award rates between white and ethnic minority researchers, which is an area to look to improve. The inequality appears to occur during the anonymous review stage, with a greater proportion of white researchers being invited to panel. Recommendations to make the review process fairer include: ensuring greater diversity of reviewers; reviewer anti-bias training; and automatic adjustments to correct for known biases in writing style [ 16 , 32 ].

When reflecting on the development of a strategy to embed EDI throughout the network, Connected Everything has learned several key lessons that may benefit other networks undergoing a similar activity. These include:

EDI is never ‘done’: There is a constant need to review approaches to EDI to ensure they remain relevant to the network community. Connected Everything could review its principles to include the concept of justice in its approach to diversity and inclusion. The concept of justice concerning EDI refers to the removal of systematic barriers that stop fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities among all members of society, regardless of their individual characteristics or backgrounds. The principles and subsequent actions could be reviewed against the EDI expectations [ 14 ], paying particular attention to areas where barriers may still be present. For example, shifting from welcoming people into existing structures and culture to creating new structures and culture together, with specific emphasis on decision or advisory mechanisms within the network. This activity could lend itself to focusing more on tailored support to overcome barriers, thus achieving equity, if it is not within the control of the network to remove the barrier itself (justice).

Widen diversity categories: By collecting data on a broad range of characteristics, we can identify and address disparities and biases that might otherwise be overlooked. A weakness of this dataset is that ignores the experience of those with intersectional identities, across race, ethnicity, gender, class, disability and/ or LGBTQI. The Wellcome Trust noted how little was known about the socio-economic background of scientists and researchers [ 48 ].

Collect data on whole research teams: For the first two calls for feasibility study funding, Connected Everything only asked the Principal Investigator to voluntarily provide their data. We realised that this was a limited approach and, in the third call, asked for the data regarding the whole research team to be shared anonymously. Furthermore, we do not currently measure the diversity of our event speakers, panellists or reviewers. Collecting these data in the future will help to ensure the network is accountable and will ensure that all groups are represented during our activities and in the funding decision-making process.

High response rate: Previous surveys measuring network diversity (e.g., [ 7 ]) have struggled to get responses when surveying their memberships; whereas, this study achieved a response rate of 73.8%. We attribute this high response rate to sending EDI data requests on the point of contact with the network (e.g., on submitting funding proposals or after attending network events), rather than trying to survey the entire network membership at anyone point in time.

Improve administration: The administration associated with collecting EDI data requires a commitment to transparency, inclusivity, and continuous improvement. For example, during the first feasibility funding call, Connected Everything made it clear that the review process would be anonymous, but the application form was not in separate documents. This made anonymising the application forms extremely time-consuming. For the subsequent calls, separate documents were created – Part A for identifying information (Principal Investigator contact details, Project Team and Industry collaborators) and Part B for the research idea.

Accepting that this can be uncomfortable: Trying to improve EDI can be uncomfortable because it often requires challenging our assumptions, biases, and existing systems and structures. However, it is essential if we want to make real progress towards equity and inclusivity. Creating processes to support embedding EDI takes time and Connected Everything has found it is rare to get it right the first time. Connected Everything is sharing its learning as widely as possible both to support others in their approaches and continue our learning as we reflect on how to continually improve, even when it is challenging.

Enabling individual engagement with EDI: During this work, Connected Everything recognised that methods for engaging with such EDI issues in research design and delivery are lacking. Connected Everything, with support from the Future Food Beacon of Excellence at the University of Nottingham, set out to develop a card-based tool [ 49 ] to help researchers and stakeholders identify questions around how their work may promote equity and increase inclusion or have a negative impact towards one or more protected groups and how this can be overcome. The results of this have been shared at conference presentations [ 50 ] and will be published later.

While this study provides insights into how EDI can be improved in research network activities and funding processes, it is essential to acknowledge several limitations that may impact the interpretation of the findings.

Sample size and generalisability: A total of 260 responses were received, which may not be representative of our overall network of 500 + members. Nevertheless, this data provides a sense of the current diversity engaging in Connected Everything activities and funding opportunities, which we can compare with other available data to steer action to further diversify the network.

Handling of missing data: Out of the 260 responses, 66 data points were missing for questions regarding age, disability, and caring responsibilities. These questions were mistakenly omitted from a Connected Everything summer school survey, contributing to 62 missing data points. While we assumed the remainer of missing data to be at random during analysis, it's important to acknowledge it could be related to other factors, potentially introducing bias into our results.

Emphasis on quantitative data: The study relies on using quantitative data to evaluate the impact of the EDI measures introduced by Connected Everything. However, relying solely on quantitative metrics may overlook nuanced aspects of EDI that cannot be easily quantified. For example, EDI encompasses multifaceted issues influenced by historical, cultural, and contextual factors. These nuances may not be fully captured by numbers alone. In addition, some EDI efforts may not yield immediate measurable outcomes but still contribute to a more inclusive environment.

Diversity and inclusion are not synonymous: The study proposes 21 measures to contribute towards creating an equal, diverse and inclusive research culture and collects diversity data to measure the impact of these measures. However, while diversity is simpler to monitor, increasing diversity alone does not guarantee equality or inclusion. Even with diverse research groups, individuals from underrepresented groups may still face barriers, microaggressions, or exclusion.

Balancing anonymity and rigour in grant reviews:The proposed anonymous review process proposed by Connected Everything removes personal and organisational details from the research ideas under reviewer evaluation. However, there exists a possibility that a reviewer could discern the identity of the grant applicant based on the research idea. Reviewers are expected to be subject matter experts in the field relevant to the grant proposal they are evaluating. Given the specialised nature of scientific research, it is conceivable that a well-known applicant could be identified through the specifics of the work, the methodologies employed, and even the writing style.

Expanding gender identity options: A limitation of this study emerged from the restricted gender options (male, female, other, prefer not to say) provided to respondents when answering the gender identity question. This limitation reflects the context of data collection in 2018, a time when diversity monitoring guidance was still limited. As our understanding of gender identity evolves beyond binary definitions, future data collection efforts should embrace a more expansive and inclusive approach, recognising the diverse spectrum of gender identities.

In conclusion, this study provides evidence of the effectiveness of a research network's approach to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in research and funding. By collecting EDI data from individuals who engage with network activities and apply for research funding, this study has shown that the network's initiatives have had a positive impact on representation and fairness in the funding process. Specifically, the analysis reveals that the network is successful at engaging with ECRs, and those with care responsibilities and has a diverse range of ethnicities represented at Connected Everything events. Additionally, the network activities have a more equal gender balance and greater representation of researchers with disabilities when compared to the engineering and technology academic community, though there is still an underrepresentation of these groups compared to the national population.

Connected Everything introduced measures to help address inequalities in how funding is awarded. The measures introduced helped reduce the dominance of researchers who identified as male and research-intensive universities in winning research funding. Additionally, researchers with care responsibilities were more successful at winning funding than those without care responsibilities. However, inequality persisted with white researchers achieving higher award rates than those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Recommendations to make the review process fairer include: ensuring greater diversity of reviewers; reviewer anti-bias training; and automatic adjustments to correct for known biases in writing style.

Connected Everything’s approach to embedding EDI in network activities has already been shared widely with other EPSRC-funded networks and Hubs (e.g. the UKRI Circular Economy Hub and the UK Acoustics Network Plus). The network hopes that these findings will inform broader efforts to promote EDI in research and funding and that researchers, funders, and other stakeholders will be encouraged to adopt evidence-based strategies for advancing this important goal.

Availability of data and materials

The data collected was anonymously, however, it may be possible to identify an individual by combining specific records of the data request form data. Therefore, the study data has been presented in aggregate form to protect the confidential of individuals and the data utilised in this study cannot be made openly accessible due to ethical obligations to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the data providers.

Abbreviations

Early career researcher

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Engineering physical sciences research council

UK research and innovation

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the support Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [grant number EP/S036113/1], Connected Everything II: Accelerating Digital Manufacturing Research Collaboration and Innovation. The authors would also like to gratefully acknowledge the Connected Everything Executive Group for their contribution towards developing Connected Everything’s equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.

This work was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) [grant number EP/S036113/1].

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OJF analysed and interpreted the data, and was the lead author in writing and revising the manuscript. DF led the data acquisition and supported the interpretation of the data. DF was also a major contributor to the design of the equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy proposed in this work. NJW supported the design of the EDI strategy and was a major contributor in reviewing and revising the manuscript. PG supported the design of the EDI strategy, and was a major contributor in reviewing and revising the manuscript. FC supported the design of the EDI strategy and the interpretation of the data. DM supported the design of the EDI strategy. SS led the development EDI strategy proposed in this work, and was a major contributor in data interpretation and reviewing and revising the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Fisher, O.J., Fearnshaw, D., Watson, N.J. et al. Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and funding: reflections from a digital manufacturing research network. Res Integr Peer Rev 9 , 5 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-024-00144-w

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  • 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online].
  • 2. Florence CS, Bergen G, Atherly A, Burns ER, Stevens JA, Drake C. Medical Costs of Fatal and Nonfatal Falls in Older Adults . Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2018 Apr;66(4):693–698. DOI:10.1111/jgs.15304.

Falls—and the injuries and deaths they cause—are increasing, but falls can be prevented. Learn more about Older Adult Fall Prevention.

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  4. How to Write an Intervention Plan [+ Template]

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COMMENTS

  1. Problem-Solving Therapy: Definition, Techniques, and Efficacy

    Problem-solving therapy is a brief intervention that provides people with the tools they need to identify and solve problems that arise from big and small life stressors. It aims to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness. Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression ...

  2. Problem-Solving Therapy

    In Problem-Solving Therapy, Drs. Arthur Nezu and Christine Maguth Nezu demonstrate their positive, goal-oriented approach to treatment.Problem-solving therapy is a cognitive-behavioral intervention geared to improve an individual's ability to cope with stressful life experiences.

  3. 3.2: Problem Solving Approaches and Interventions

    This page titled 3.2: Problem Solving Approaches and Interventions is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vera Kennedy. There are six problem solving approaches and interventions most commonly used among practitioners. Each approach examines a different aspect of a social problem.

  4. 10 Best Problem-Solving Therapy Worksheets & Activities

    "Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a psychosocial intervention, generally considered to be under a cognitive-behavioral umbrella" (Nezu, Nezu, & D'Zurilla, 2013, p. ix). ... Creators of PST D'Zurilla and Nezu suggest a 14-step approach to achieve the following problem-solving treatment goals (Dobson, 2011): Enhance positive problem ...

  5. PDF Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual

    Problem-Solving Therapy A Treatment Manual Arthur M. Nezu, PhD, ABPP Christine Maguth Nezu, PhD, ABPP Thomas J. D'Zurilla, PhD ISBN: 978--8261-9919-5 ... State your problem-solving goal (BE REALISTIC): Describe the major obstacles to achieving your goal at this time: a. b. c. Think of alternative ways to achieve your goal. Be creative.

  6. Problem-Solving Therapy: How It Works & What to Expect

    Problem-solving therapy (PST) is an intervention with cognitive and behavioral influences used to assist individuals in managing life problems. Therapists help clients learn effective skills to address their issues directly and make positive changes. PST is used in various settings to address mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and more.

  7. 3.1: Interventions and Problem Solving

    During the implementation phase, interventionists and collaborators will initiate and work on each strategy for change. The final phase in the process of intervention is evaluation. Sociologists use evaluation to find out if a program, service, or intervention works (Steele and Price 2008). There are two types of evaluation.

  8. PDF Session 2 Problem-Solving Therapy

    Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is an evidenced-based intervention to facilitate behavioral changes through a variety of skill training. PST identifies strategies to ... ² identifying obstacles and setting a realistic problem-solving goal, and; ² raising possible solutions, weighing advantages and disadvantages of all ...

  9. Problem-Solving Theory: The Task-Centred Model

    The goals of crisis intervention include alleviating clients' immediate pressure and restoring their problem-solving abilities to at least a pre-crisis level of functioning (Poal 1990). Crisis intervention practice has evolved over time and is implemented in seven stages following a clearly delineated step-by-step set of directives (Regehr ...

  10. What is PST?

    Problem-Solving Treatment (PST) is a brief form of evidence-based psychotherapy. PST has been used since the 1970's as a standalone intervention. It has been studied extensively in a wide range of settings and with a variety of providers and patient populations, and there are over 80 peer-reviewed articles on its use. While there are many ...

  11. 7 Solution-Focused Therapy Techniques and Worksheets (+PDF)

    A research study done on solution-focused life coaching (Green, Oades, & Grant, 2006) showed that this type of intervention increases goal striving and hope, in addition to overall well-being. ... SFT allows for a goal-oriented focus to problem-solving. This approach allows for future-oriented, rather than past-oriented discussions to move a ...

  12. 7. Developing an Intervention

    Developing an Intervention. 7. Developing an Intervention. This toolkit provides supports for developing core components of a community intervention and adapting them to fit the context. Identify the community problem/goal to be addressed and what needs to be done. Include: Assess the level of the problem or goal.

  13. The seven-stage crisis intervention model: A road map to goal

    Application of Roberts' seven-stage crisis intervention model can facilitate the clinician's effective intervening by emphasizing rapid assessment of the client's problem and resources, collaborating on goal selection and attainment, finding alternative coping methods, developing a working alliance, and building upon the client's strengths.

  14. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Techniques, Goals, and Benefits

    The goal of SFBT is to help you develop tools and skills, based on your current strengths, that you can use moving forward. These tools and skills may help you change harmful behaviors, achieve ...

  15. 22 Best Counseling Interventions & Strategies for Therapists

    Interventions are a vital aspect of marriage therapy, often targeting communication skills, problem-solving, and taking responsibility (Williams, 2012). ... We have many free interventions, using various approaches and mediums, that support the counseling process and client goal achievement. Nudge Interventions in Groups

  16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Types, Techniques, Uses

    Goal-Setting . Goal setting can be an important step in recovery from mental illness, helping you to make changes to improve your health and life. ... Problem-Solving . ... The clinical effectiveness of CBT-based guided self-help interventions for anxiety and depressive disorders: A systematic review. Psycholog Med. 2011;41(11):2239-2252. doi ...

  17. Interventions: Addressing Cognition for Adults with TBI

    Teach the client the "Goal - Plan - Do - Check" strategy, based on the Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance (CO-OP) Model Teach the client how to use a problem-solving strategy (i.e., define problem, brainstorm solutions, evaluate pros/cons of different solutions, choose a solution, implement the solution, monitor the ...

  18. How to improve your problem solving skills and strategies

    6. Solution implementation. This is what we were waiting for! All problem solving strategies have the end goal of implementing a solution and solving a problem in mind. Remember that in order for any solution to be successful, you need to help your group through all of the previous problem solving steps thoughtfully.

  19. Problem Solving Interventions: An Opportunity for Hospice Social

    Problem Solving Theory. Problem solving can be defined as a self-directed process aimed at identifying solutions for specific problems encountered in daily life (D'Zurilla & Nezu, 2007). The premise of this approach is that problems, identified by an individual, can be addressed with an active cognitive process to find a solution.

  20. Problem-Solving Process Interventions

    A student who has difficulty understanding the problem, planning and executing a solution, self-monitoring progress toward a goal, and evaluating a solution will benefit from intervention around the problem-solving process.The following interventions support students in internalizing this process from start to finish. This page includes intervention strategies that you can use to support your ...

  21. PDF Sample Intervention Goals Based On Core Challenges In Autism ...

    Using language to talk through transitions across activities. Expressing one's emotional state and the emotional state of others. Preparing and planning for upcoming activities. Perceiving one's actions within social events and predicting social behavior in others in order to self-monitor. Negotiating and collaborating within interactions with ...

  22. Problem solving is embedded in context… so how do we measure it?

    Problem solving encompasses the broad domain of human, goal-directed behaviors. Though we may attempt to measure problem solving using tightly controlled and decontextualized tasks, it is inextricably embedded in both reasoners' experiences and their contexts. Without situating problem solvers, problem contexts, and our own experiential ...

  23. 22 Executive Functioning Activities for Adults

    Below are examples of how to use problem-solving strategies for the goal of using the call light. Task Analysis: We break "using the call light" down into three steps: 1) Identify the goal to call the nurse 2) Find the call light and 3) Push the button. Errorless Learning: Focus on accuracy by giving enough cues and emphasizing not guessing

  24. Nursing students' stressors and coping strategies during their first

    Understanding the stressors and coping strategies of nursing students in their first clinical training is important for improving student performance, helping students develop a professional identity and problem-solving skills, and improving the clinical teaching aspects of the curriculum in nursing programmes. While previous research have examined nurses' sources of stress and coping styles ...

  25. How to Talk to an Employee Who Isn't Meeting Expectations

    It's an opportunity to address the gap between the work they're delivering and the company's goals. Approaching a conversation about improving an employee's performance requires ...

  26. Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in research and funding

    Equal, diverse, and inclusive teams lead to higher productivity, creativity, and greater problem-solving ability resulting in more impactful research. However, there is a gap between equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) research and practices to create an inclusive research culture. Research networks are vital to the research ecosystem, creating valuable opportunities for researchers to ...

  27. Seifert Is the New Editor of PSPI

    APS Fellow Colleen M. Seifert, an expert on creative problem-solving at both the basic and applied levels, is the new editor of Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI). She follows APS William James Fellow Nora Newcombe, who has served as editor of the journal since 2019. Seifert is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology at ...

  28. UpliftingVibesOnly

    82 likes, 0 comments - _upliftingvibesonly_ on May 15, 2024: ""7 Steps to Effective Problem Solving" 1. Identify the Problem: Clearly define the issue and your goals. 2.

  29. About Older Adult Fall Prevention

    Key points. Falls can be prevented. Falls among adults 65 and older caused over 38,000 deaths in 2021, making it the leading cause of injury death for that group. 1. In 2021, emergency departments recorded nearly 3 million visits for older adult falls. 1.