If you want to find a Solution to a Problem, you need to understand the Problem. That means you need to determine what type of problem you are trying to solve. Problems can be primarily Systemic, Situational, Personal, and/or any combination thereof.
A Systemic problem is created by factors that are structural and inherent to the overall system in question. For example, each year in the U.S. approximately 30,000 people die in automobile accidents. These deaths are systemic to the US Driving System and present a Systemic Problem. A Systemic Solution to this Problem will reduce the overall rate of annual deaths. For example, the use of airbags in automobiles is a Systemic Solution that reduced the rate of driving fatalities and serious injuries.
A Systemic Solution may inadvertently cause Situational Problems. For example, airbags that inflate and prevent drivers from exiting the vehicle in water crashes are a Situational Problem that is increased by this Systemic Solution. Situational Problems result from similar circumstances and are a subset of the overall Systemic Problem. A Situational Solution to this Problem would be a means to deflate the airbag rapidly after a crash.
A Personal Problem is the result of primary Personal factors. A person who is a consistently poor driver is more likely to be injured or killed in a driving accident regardless of having an airbag. When the poor driving is the result of drinking and many people do it on a regular basis, it becomes a Systemic Problem. A person who only drinks and drives when other people around him or her consumes alcohol, has a Situational Problem.
Real world problems are made up of factors that are Systemic, Situational, and Personal making solutions difficult to determine. In addition, how a problem is described depends on the viewpoint of the person looking at the Problem. Since solving significant societal problems requires the cooperation of many people, it is important that there is a common language to describe the problems, solutions, and the factors involved.
In other words, an effective Systemic solution to a Systemic problem may be an ineffective Personal solution to a related Personal problem. An effective Personal solution to a Personal problem may be an ineffective Situational solution to a related Situational problem. An effective Situational solution to a Situational problem may be an ineffective Systemic solution to a Systemic problem and so forth. Difficulty arises when people are all talking about different type of problems and different types of solutions, yet they think they are describing a singular problem with a singular solution.
Another way to think of the labels is that Top-Down Problem Solving is a way of focusing on a Systemic problem that effects people. Whereas Bottom-Up Problem Solving starts with focusing on people’s Personal problems. Regardless of the exact terminology used, it is important to recognize that a problem can be viewed in multiple ways and so can its solution.
Bullying, sexual harassment, mass shootings, youth violence, domestic violence, police shootings, rape, robbery, etc. These are all problems in society that create a huge amount of arguing and debate over what the problems and solutions are and are not. But what percentage of the time are the people who are arguing actually focusing on the same thing?