Step 2: Determine an Underlying Problem

Step 2 focuses on the important part of the future scene you choose to solve. Consider the different challenges from Step 1 and select one you think will have the most impact on the future scene.

STEP 2Essentials

1. An underlying problem (UP) may be composed of one challenge or one category of challenges or a compilation of several related challenges identified in Step 1 you wish to solve in Step 3. An underlying problem that restates the entire future scene is inappropriate.

Effective problem solving means a large challenge is broken down into smaller, more manageable challenges. In other words, it would be very hard to solve all the challenges of Antarctica at once. Instead, it would be easier and more effective if we attack one challenge or one category of challenges at a time.

a. You might look at one important challenge in your list of 16 challenges in Step 1. A challenge that is an underlying cause of the future scene makes an excellent underlying problem.

• In 2025, when many tourists are visiting Antarctica and leaving behind damage and destruction, how might we reduce the amount of harm to the continent caused by tourists so Antarctica may remain a pristine environment?

b. Another way to select an underlying problem is to address an area or category of concern. For example, we can first attack environmental challenges, then economic challenges, followed by recreation, etc.

A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. In what ways might we protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants in 2025 so Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered?

c. You may have several related challenges in Step 1 you can compile into an important underlying problem. A compilation, or synthesis, can be seen as more than one specific challenge but less than an entire category of challenges; or it can be a compilation of related challenges that address several different categories.

d. Avoid trying to accomplish multiple ideas in your underlying problem.

2. A Step 2 underlying problem is never as large as the future scene; instead, look for an underlying problem that focuses on one challenge category (or area).

a. The following are good examples of a correctly written underlying problem:

Since Antarctica is threatened by expanded tourism, how might we increase the environmental awareness of the tourists in Antarctica in 2025 so Antarctica’s environment will be preserved?

Because tourists have caused damage, how might we reduce the destruction of Antarctica’s ecosystem so the food chain will not be disrupted in 2025?

A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. In what ways might we protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants in 2025 so Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered?

The following examples are weak underlying problems. Each example restates the future scene. Underlying problems like these are considered restatements of the future scene and score low in focus and adequacy.

b. Remember these are weak examples. Do not follow these examples.

Because of the increased tourism, how might we overcome the problems in Antarctica so it will be preserved?

Since land claims no longer exist, how might we help save Antarctica in 2025 and beyond so it will not be destroyed?

Because of the many challenges, how might we overcome the challenges of Antarctica in 2025 so it is protected?

How might we solve (or overcome, or develop remedies for, or reduce) the challenges of Antarctica so …?

Without narrowing the future scene, teams misunderstand the FPS process and place themselves in a very precarious position. If an underlying problem restates the entire future scene as described above, the booklet receives scores of one (1) on focus and one (1) in adequacy in Step 2.

3. An underlying problem (UP) is stated as one question and contains four basic components.

a. C – Condition Phrase: A lead-in fact from the future scene or related research that is the basis for or cause of the challenge the team chooses as its underlying problem. The condition phrase guides (forces) the team to make a connection to the future scene and the Step 1 challenge(s) used as the focus of the underlying problem. A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean it up.” (Because or since are options in developing a condition phrase.)

b. S – Stem:How might we…” or “In what ways might we…” The obligatory stem provides a uniform structure for all underlying problems.

c. KVP – Key Verb Phrase is one key action verb in a phrase that mandates what must occur in Step 3 to solve the underlying problem. The KVP provides direction for generating solution ideas in Step 3. Relevant solution ideas are those that do what the KVP mandates. For example, from the Antarctica future scene, if your underlying problem begins, “A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. In what ways might we protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants in 2025 so Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered?” then all of your Step 3 solution ideas must “protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants” to be considered relevant.

d. P – Purpose: The purpose specifies an optimal direction, goal to pursue, or reason for solving the challenge. The purpose provides direction for the KVP. It serves as the ultimate goal of the underlying problem. The purpose is also a condition that must be satisfied for Step 3 solution ideas to be considered relevant. For example, if your underlying problem (UP) is “A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. In what ways might we protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants in 2025 so Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered then relevant solution ideas must not simply “protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants” but they must do so in such a way that “Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered.

Note 1: The KVP and/or the Purpose must explicitly or implicitly indicate what the problem is from Step 1 you select to solve in Step 3. The example above indicates the protection of animal inhabitants is the problem selected.

Note 2: Leaving out the purpose can negatively affect scores in both Step 2 and Step 3. In Step 2 teams lose three (3) points in structure; and receive focus scores between one (1) and three (3). In addition, evaluators will impose a purpose that seems logical to the future scene. Solution ideas in Step 3 are scored for relevance very strictly against the KVP, the imposed purpose, and the future scene parameters. In competition, a team whose UP has no purpose has a hard time advancing to further rounds of evaluation.

e. FSP – Future Scene Parameters: Parameters are conditions that place your underlying problem within the confines of the future scene. Including parameters of the future scene in your underlying problem ensures the challenge is a subarea of the future scene. The parameters are found, of course, in the future scene and include place (geographic location involved), topic (major focus of the future scene) and time (the year).

Relevant solution ideas to your underlying problem will not contradict any part of the FSP. For example, if your underlying problem is, “A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. In what ways might we protect Antarctica’s animal inhabitants in 2025 so Antarctica’s unique species do not become endangered?” (FSP are underlined), then relevant solution ideas must not simply “protect animal inhabitants” and do so in such a way they will not “become endangered” but they must do so in relation to the place and topic (Antarctica) and time (2025) listed in the future scene. Even if a team forgets to include the FSP in its underlying problem, solution ideas still need to fall within these parameters to be scored relevant in Step 3.

4. The underlying problem used in the above example has been broken down into the five basic components that follow:

A tourist ship developed a leak in its fuel tanks, and it took months to clean up. (CP) – How might we (S) – protect Antarctica’s (FSP) animal inhabitants (KVP) – in 2025 (FSP) – so Antarctica’s (FSP) unique species do not become endangered? (P)

The following two examples are from two different future scenes.

Because children in a cashless society (FSP) will not have the opportunity to hold their money (FSP) in their hands or save it in a piggy bank (CP) – in what ways might we (S) – help children to learn monetary concepts (KVP) – so they will become financially responsible adults (P) – in Leabeau County after 2031? (FSP)

Because children lack exposure to other children (CP), – how might we (S) – socialize children (KVP) – to become well-adjusted citizens (P) – of our community through the use of a home computer education system (FSP) in the year 2005? (FSP)?

Note 3: Delineation of CP, S, KVP, P and FSP in the previous examples is offered for illustration. Do not include these in the actual team booklet.

5. Multiple verbs occur in an underlying problem when more than one key action verb is used; the word and in an underlying problem should be a red flag to teams and evaluators.

IWWMW decrease tourism and reduce pollution on the continent of Antarctica…?

Some multiple underlying problems occur, however, because of the existence of multiple objects in combination with a single verb in the key verb phrase. Examples of this are:

HMW reduce child abuse and drug abuse…?

HMW provide economic and counseling opportunities…?

HMW distribute food and jobs…?

Note 4: If a multiple key verb phrase exists in a booklet, evaluators are instructed to refer only to the first verb in the underlying problem when scoring focus and adequacy in Step 2. In Step 3, however, solution ideas must be relevant to everything mentioned in the underlying problem to score as relevant solution ideas.

STEP 2 – Suggestions

1. Selection of the underlying problem is a critical step in the FPS process. The Four I’s represent areas for a team to consider as they thoughtfully make their decision about the underlying problem. When discussing which of the many and varied Step 1 challenges to attack (solve) in Step 2, the team should ask themselves these questions, referred to as the Four I’s:

a. Impact – Which challenge, if solved, would have the greatest impact on the future scene?

b. Influence – Which challenge can we have the most influence on because of our knowledge of the topic?

c. Interest – Which challenge generates the most interest and enthusiasm among our team members?

d. Imagination – Which challenge seems most likely to inspire our imaginations so we can come up with creative, futuristic solution ideas?

2. When you determine an underlying problem, remember the following tips:

a. Select a Step 1 challenge or category of challenges you feel is a very important aspect of the future scene and a challenge you wish to solve.

b. The condition phrase defines the specific part or parts of the future scene or related research that serve as the catalyst for the area of concern you choose to solve. State the condition that indicates the reason the challenge is chosen from Step 1.

c. Choose a singular, active, key verb phrase that clearly mandates what you must do in Step 3 to solve this challenge.

d. Add one purpose that gives a specific goal (outcome) to your key verb phrase mandate.

e. Avoid using the words and, or, and while in your underlying problem. This will reduce your chance of a multiple key verb phrase and/or multiple purpose.

f. Include those elements that place your underlying problem within the parameters of the future scene.

g. Be as concise as possible. Read it aloud, and ask the following questions: Is it clear? Does it make sense to you?

h. Avoid an underlying problem that restates, broadens, does not identify a challenge from the future scene, or uses an absolute verb.

3. It is recommended in your underlying problem that you choose a challenge area for your underlying problem that allows you to utilize your research. Some teams choose underlying problems that, are appropriate because they arose from legitimate challenges identified in Step 1 but have very little to do with the topic area, the future scene, or the research.

• The two most frequent examples of this are: “How might we convince the public we must solve problem X?” and “How might we raise funds to solve problem X?

• Both these areas are legitimate concerns in dealing with most future scenes. The FPS process allows you to focus on either one of these in the underlying problem (UP).

• The difficulty that results is the rest of your booklet will be concerned with convincing or fund-raising and not with the specific FPS topic. You won’t utilize your research or any information your team discussed in preparing for completion of the booklet.

• It is recommended you keep this in mind when selecting your UP and try to select a challenge or category of challenges which will maximize utilization of your knowledge on the topic area, as well as focus on important issues in the future scene.

4. In searching for just the right verb, avoid using absolute verbs such as guarantee, ensure, eliminate, or prevent because they set you up for failure in Step 3. In competitive scoring, an absolute verb is scored one to three (1-3) in focus and one to three (1-3) in adequacy. (Refer to the action verbs on page 108 in the FPSP Coach’s Handbook.)

• As an illustration, how many solution ideas can you think of which prevent pollution?

• Qualified terms such as reduce, alleviate, improve, or increase, will be much more practical for generating solution ideas in Step 3.

• Substitute the word prevent with reduce and you will find it considerably easier (and more realistic) to generate solution ideas that reduce pollution.

5. “Formula writing” (plugging information into a predetermined format) shows a lack of creativity, and evaluators tire of reading it. Avoid this in the underlying problem by thinking about a time parameter which offers something more than the formulaic “in the year 2025.”

The following UP examples are from future scenes on high school dropouts and transportation:

How might we encourage students to stay in school so they can be better prepared to contribute to their community after graduation?

How might we decrease congestion at SoCal Airport to increase on-time arrivals for passengers when they travel through SoCal?

6. Choose words carefully so the goals stated in your KVP and purpose are clear and measurable. Phrases such as improve the quality of life or successful life have different meanings to each evaluator. The evaluator may have a difficult time determining if vague solution ideas can be achieved.

7. The purpose should be one that clearly results from achieving the goal stated in the key verb phrase. It should be more than a rephrasing of the KVP. A purpose that restates the condition phrase or restates the future scene scores low in focus.

8. The underlying problem should be narrow enough to focus attention on a challenge and broad enough to generate many different solution ideas.

9. The underlying problem should be an important or significant problem area within the future scene.

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