How to use a systems diagram to analyse and structure complex problems for policy issue papers
Many policy problems are complex in the sense that natural, technological, social and human elements interact. Problem exploration and structuring are essential as a basis for deliberate and focused approaches towards problem resolution. The results of problem exploration efforts can be laid down in the form of a policy issue paper. We have developed a systemic, stepwise approach, which has been elaborated and taught for over a decade to hundreds of students. This seven-step approach centers on the construction of a system diagram as a means to provide structure to the conceptualisation of a complex problem situation. The approach is based on a conscious combination of existing relatively straightforward analytical methods including objectives hierarchy, means-ends analysis, causal diagramming, stakeholder analysis, and contextual scenarios. The obtained insights are then summed up in a policy issue paper, which is the basis for further planning and research.