1. Problem identification, assessment and prioritisation

Step 1 of the Framework provides guidance on setting a clear set of goals and objectives.

Step 2 explains how to identify, assess and prioritise the problems that are preventing (or are likely to prevent) these goals and objectives from being achieved. This chapter provides guidance on Step 2.

In Step 3, any options generated should address these identified problems. In practice, the process of problem identification establishes the platform from which a broad range of interventions are investigated and assessed. This means that it is critical for Step 2 of the Framework to look not only at current problems but also at future or emerging issues.

Step 2 can be broken down into three distinct stages; problem identification, problem assessment and problem prioritisation. These stages are depicted in the diagram below.

Figure 1: Step 2 of the Framework Step 2 of the Framework

Importantly, the use of the term ‘problem’ should not be interpreted to mean there is a focus on negatives. The term ‘problem’ is used throughout these guidelines for clarity, but should be interpreted to cover a range of issues, deficiencies and challenges. Problems can also be expressed as constraints on opportunities.

The completion of this step of the Framework should result in clear statements of problems and documented evidence of their scale and extent, causes and effects, the cost of the problem and priority.

Problem identification and assessment is grounded in the goals and objectives identified in Step 1. Practitioners should refer back to the goals and objectives from the previous step to ensure that the problem assessment focuses on the problems that are preventing the goals and objectives from being achieved.

Problems identified in this step should continue to be tested and refined in subsequent steps of the Framework, recognising that:

  • Problems and priorities may change overtime and/or in light of other developments. For example, the development of a transport initiative on another part of the network or the introduction of road tolls may reduce the extent and scale of a problem. Similarly, unexpected population changes over time or a new housing development may increase the scale of the problem and require problems to be reprioritised.
  • Problem assessment may reveal additional problems not identified in the problem identification stage.
  • Problem prioritisation may require further problem assessment to support evidence-based priority setting.
  • Problem identification and assessment is an iterative process that will cycle through:
    • Identifying the problem as it is currently understood
    • Identifying and collecting all relevant data and evidence
    • Analysing the available data and refining the problem statement (validating, rejecting or redefining the problem).

Box 1 Avoiding the pitfalls

Common pitfalls in problem identification, assessment and prioritisation include:

  • Only seeing part of the problem
  • Lack of evidence to demonstrate the problem
  • Failure to prioritise problems
  • Failing to see that there are other related problems
  • Dealing with effects rather than causes
  • Lack of evidence to support problem prioritisation
  • Viewing the problem through the lens of a preconceived solution.