Exercise C: Articulating Problems and Problem Scope in Context
Framing Problems for Multiple Stakeholders
Part of the challenge of the SMART City initiative and—under the umbrella of that initiative, the AEV project—is that there are many, interrelated issues to be addressed and many stakeholders with varying interests and backgrounds.
As an engineer, a significant part of your work will involve defining a specific problem (or defining multiple problems) to be addressed within a context where there are multiple, interrelated issues. To limit the scope and clarify your purpose, a problem definition should articulate the issues your engineering solution will address, as well as identify issues outside the scope of your proposed solution. To put it another way, you must choose content and words that frame the problem to clarify why it is relevant and significant for your audience. In addition, the AEV project allows for many different problems to be solved—by creating the AEV, you aim to solve a transportation problem for the citizens of city of Columbus.
In addition, by creating a design that is safe, efficient, cost-effective (whatever you’ve decided) you solve a problem for your company. Finally, by creating a custom part for your AEV, you solve a problem for your team.
It follows that when you’re defining an engineering problem in writing, it matters that you consider the scope and parameters of the problem, as well your audience, since they have different concerns and interests.
- Write a paragraph to the CEO of your company, explaining how your design solves problems of efficiency, cost, or safety that you identified through your research and development process. Be precise and concise, using exact figures and accurate descriptions (e.g., instead of indicating that your chosen design is “best”, explain what makes it “best”: For example, “our final design solves the energy efficiency problem presented in our original designs. Specifically, the modifications to the motor increase efficiency by 75%, reducing energy use per run from 1500 joules to 375 joules.”)
- Write a paragraph to a public investor, explaining the main problem for the community of Columbus that is solved (or opportunity that is created) by your AEV and its location on a path from Linden to Easton. Possible ways of framing the benefits of the AEV could include discussion of the following (among others):
- Opportunities created for Columbus residents,
- Access issues for Linden residents that would be solved (e.g., better ability to use public transportation to get to doctor’s appointments and grocery stores), and
- Return on investment (probably the investor’s main concern), as well as any additional investment/development opportunities at other stops along the path the AEV would travel.
Be precise and concise, but consider the balance of information when determining what an investor would want to know about the vehicle design versus logistics questions such as where and how the vehicle would operate, its passenger capacity and time required to travel, return on investment, etc.
- Exchange your paragraphs with a partner on your AEV team, and read their response.
- After reading your partner’s response, take brief notes on the differences in how they framed the problems solved/opportunities created by the AEV project for the CEO versus for the outside investor.
- With your entire group, discuss the responses—which response was most effective in framing the problem for the CEO? For the public investor? What made each response particularly effective?