3.1(c) Why oh why? Peeling the onion


To help peel back layers of a problem to increase the group’s understanding of why it exists so as to improve the quality of planning.

You need

Flipchart and pens and about an hour.

What to do

Too often, we rush from describing a problem to jumping to simple solutions, without exploring why these issues exist. Getting a fuller sense of why a problem exists is vital to build up an effective plan to tackle it. Look back at the snapshot. The first time, the young people took their worry about poor transport, without preparation, to a scary meeting and were given the brush off by know-all adults. A year later – well, that was a different story! Good planning needs good understanding of the scale and depth of a problem.

Make a huge picture of an onion and draw in it a whole load of rings or layers. Label your onion with the key concerns you want to do something about that you prioritised in the last activity, 3.1(b) Bull's-eye. Now ask why does this problem exist and write the answer on the outer layer of the onion. Then ask why again. And so on. Every time you ask why and write in the answer, you are peeling back a layer of the onion, a layer of the problem. You might find one layer has a number of answers as in the example below. And onions make your eyes water when you peel them. It might sting a bit. But it’s worth it to get to the heart of the problem.

  1. We’re bored – why?
  2. There’s nothing to do – why?
  3. There’s nowhere to go – why?
    1. The community centre doesn’t allow us in – why?
    2. Transport to town is too expensive – why?
    1. They think we’re just a nuisance – why?
    2. We have to pay adult fares though we’re in school and college – why?

And so on.

What do you think?

As you explore the issues a bit further, does it make it easier or harder to plan what to do? You can see how looking at why we are bored has thrown up a number of different causes that might take a different bit of planning to take action on. Keep your reflections to help in the next aim where you get into planning the detail of your campaign of action.

What next?

There are a range of ways to explore a problem or concern that can help make sure you have as complete an understanding as possible to make sure you are well equipped to get the changes you want. Role-play can work well. Take the key issue you have identified and agree roles and act it out. Stop and reflect afterwards about any new angles and ideas that were thrown up. Keep a record for later use.

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