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Defining real world problems: a conceptual language

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1 Author(s)
Smith, G.F. ; Carlson Sch. of Manage., Minnesota Univ., Minneapolis, MN, USA

Problem definition-verbally or otherwise representing a problematic situation-is a critical element of the problem solving process. It plays an equally important role in the systems development process. Representations are necessarily expressed in a medium or language, ranging from the symbols used in formal models to the natural language verbalizations of laypeople. After discussing the central issues involved in representing problem situations, this paper reviews the many approaches to problem definition proposed by theorists. These approaches are evaluated against norms of validity-a definition's correspondence with reality-and generativity-its ability to promote effective problem solving. The paper then reports the results of a study of problem definitions produced by practising managers responding to actual organizational problems. This study led to the development of a conceptual language and related coding scheme for the analysis of real world problem definitions. The study also suggests the existence of certain characteristics, termed situational structures, that are defining of a problem and of problem types. Opportunities for research on problem definition and applications to such fields as software engineering are discussed

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Systems, Man and Cybernetics, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:23 ,  Issue: 5 )