problem articleThe secret to a great solution is a well-articulated problem. Unfortunately, we seem hardwired to jump into solution development mode prematurely; we imagine all the benefits that a particular outcome might bring and often don’t make time to question assumptions about root causes.

Students in Applied Sustainability, one of the cornerstones of the MA in Sustainability at Wake Forest, got the chance to practice developing problem statements with locally-based clients. The exercise was aimed at learning how to investigate and articulate problems in a way that increases the likelihood that we might solve them on a feasible timeline.

Four friends of the program came to class with real challenges that their organizations face. The students worked in groups to interview their clients. The goal was to uncover the roots of the expressed issues, to explore why the challenges mattered within an organizational context, and to help envision a more sustainable future in which the problems were solved. From this articulation, measurable goals and tactics are more easily identified.

Students will be working with a different set of clients on capstone projects as the program progresses. The ability to approach problems in this way will be valuable to students, and to the next group of clients, both of whom hope to realize value from the project work performed on the given time scale.

Through this opportunity, students were also able interact with a sample of the business owners, educators, and advocates working on sustainable community development. Having clients come to class created a living laboratory. The “real world” was there.

According to Phillip Hunsucker, MA’15, on team beta verde: “Learning from Margaret about the vision of the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market reminded me of the interconnectedness of projects rooted in sustainability. Recognizing that these projects are grounded in shared themes, like equal accessibility and the promotion of locally-sourced products, encourages me as I continue my own career.”

Thank you to the generous friends who supplied their time for this important exercise:

Valerie Lecoeur,  Zoe b Organic

Paul Swenson,  Energy Reduction Specialists of North Carolina, Inc.

Margaret Norfleet Neff, beta verde and the Cobblestone Farmer’s Market

Kristin Wiggins, Piedmont Environmental Alliance