1.1 How to identify a social problem
In this unit, we will investigate how one can identify and define a social problem, what types of changes can bring positive societal outcomes, how to design a pathway of change as well as the different levels of effecting change for society.
A social problem is any condition or behavior that negatively affects a large number of people and that is generally recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed.
How do we know that a social problem has negative consequences?
Evidence is provided via work by academic researchers, government agencies, and other sources, available online—that strongly points to extensive and serious consequences.
Some examples of social problems widely recognized:
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|Ethnical and Racial Inequality
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Though in many cases, social problems are considered as such only if citizens, policymakers, or other relevant parties (NGOs, community-based organisations etc.) call attention to the condition or behavior. The above-mentioned examples are considered as negative global phenomena.
When it comes to a local level, such as your neighborhood, it is very possible that there is not much attention given by local authorities and the citizens play an important role to bring awareness of the issue and seek to find potential solutions to improve the conditions in their area. Examples of social problems on a community level: drug use, lack of funding for schools or services, ethnic conflict, inequality, lack of jobs, violence.
WHAT OTHERS WOULD YOU ADD?
Here are some criteria you may consider when identifying problems in your community (retrieved from Community Tool Box):
- The problem occurs too frequently (frequency)
- The problem has lasted for a while (duration)
- The problem affects many people (scope, or range)
- The problem is disrupting to personal or community life, and possibly intense (severity)
- The problem deprives people of legal or moral rights (equity)
- The issue is perceived as a problem (perception)
This last criterion, perception, is a particularly important one, and can also help indicate readiness for addressing the issue within the community.
Don’t forget that:
What is perceived as a problem may vary from place to place and group to group within the same community. The above-mentioned criteria could help you identify and analyze social issues within your community.
Steps to gather necessary information so as to frame a social problem (Krile, 2006, Rice et al., 2012):
- Define what you are looking for by giving answers to the following questions:
- What specific topics am I interested in?
- What data will help me to learn more about the topic?
- What specific time period does my data need to cover?
- Why do I want to know about this topic?
- How will I collect the data?
- How will I know when we have enough data?
- Start locally.
It is important to use local data to make your situation real to community members. Local governmental agencies and social service agencies are often a good source of information.
- Expand your search.
Based on your local research, expand to regional/national sites. This most often is done via the Internet. Ask your local sources where they go for data.
- When gathering data, be sure to document the sources.
- Published documents – author or organisation, date, page-link source
- Interviewing – name and date
- Internet – title of web page and URL
- Determine what the data mean.
- Note all data as facts, inferences or opinions. Also, note the context of the data
- Determine what is covered and where there are gaps- research is a continuous process, not a one-time step. One may consider collecting data on a regular basis, as means of benchmarking her/his own progress.
- Look for connections
- Putting all together
Prepare the data to be presented and plan for additional research.