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USING PROBLEM SOLVING TO ACHIEVE CHANGE Compton and Galaway make the point that while the written

description of problem solving is linear in nature, the application of the model in real life situations is circular. In any of the stages, the worker or client could loop back to an earlier stage or forward to a step that lies in the future, if the circumstances require it. The process is flexible in nature, allowing considerable latitude in its application. A modified summary of Compton and Galaway's short form outline of the problem-solving model follows. The longer form maintains the basic sequence, but elaborates on each step (Compton & Galaway, 1994, pp. 59-61).

PROBLEM-SOLVING MODEL

I.

Contact Phase A. Problem identificationas seen by client, others, and worker. Problem for work is defined. B. Goal identificationshort- and long-term goals stated. What does client wish for or need? What resources are available? C. Contractpreliminary in nature as it consists of clarifying the agency's resources and committing to further study of the problem. D. Explorationof the client's motivation, opportunities, and capacities.

II. Contract Phase A. Assessment and evaluation How are problems related to needs of client system? What factors contribute to the creating and maintaining of the problem? What resources and strengths does client have? What knowledge and principles could be applied from social work practice? How can the facts best be organized within a theoretical framework in order to resolve the problem? B. Formulation of a plan of action Set reachable goals Examine alternatives and their likely outcomes Determine appropriate method of service Identify focus of change efforts Clarify roles of work and client C. Prognosiswhat is worker's hope for success?

III. Action Phase

A. Carrying out the plan Specify point of intervention and assign tasks Identify resources and services to be used Indicate who is to do what and when B. Termination Evaluate with client system accomplishments and their meaning Learn with client about reasons for lack of success Talk about ways to maintain gains Cope with ending of relationship Review supports in natural network C. Evaluation A continual process throughout contact Were purposes accomplished? Were appropriate methods chosen to induce change? What has client learned that can be used in ongoing problem solving? What can worker learn to help with similar cases? PROBLEMS WITH APPLYING THE MODEL One of the difficulties in applying problem solving to real-life situations is that it is too challenging to process all of the information called for in the various stages (Osmo & Rosen, 1994, p. 123) and as a consequence, people choose the solution that best satisfies, although it may be far from optimal. In a more specific analysis, Johnson and Johnson identify the blocks that exist to using problem solving effectively in groups. However, with some
accommodation, the issues they raise relate to problem solving in all human contexts (1975, pp. 269-270). Their list follows: 1. Lack of clarity in stating the problem: this step requires time, as the process is bound to fail if people attempt to solve the wrong problem, or one that is only partially defined. 2. Not getting the needed information: minimal information results in poor problem definition, fewer alternative strategies, with consequences inaccurately predicted. 3. Poor communication among those involved in the process: communication is central to the entire method from definition to task allocation, so clarity and comprehensiveness must remain goals of the interchange. 4. Premature choice or testing of alternative strategies : when the process discourages creative thinking and free expression, a direction which has not been thoroughly discussed might be chosen. 5. Climate in which decisions are made is critical or demands conformity: such a situation violates the self-determination value of social work and impoverishes the process. 6. Lack of skills in problem solving : people can be trained to use the method in the context of their current problem. 7. Motivation is lacking: people who problem solve must have some need to change their situation and hope that it can be changed. Pressure to change may come from many sources, but the experience of engaging in the process itself can generate hope.