We all know the old saw about not being able to “see the forest for the trees.” And it is true – sometimes we can get so caught up in details and what is right in front of our face, that we miss overall patterns and the bigger picture.
But when problem solving, the opposite can be true, too. Seeing the bigger picture and looking at things from the “birds-eye view, can definitely be helpful. It can help us see the extent of the “forest” and how it looks from above. But if there are problems with the forest– e.g. parts of it are sick or dying, we need to get down to ground level and take a closer look at individual trees. Sometimes this is challenging because data is often aggregated and needs to be pulled apart so we can make sense of it. Aggregating often helps us recognize problems, but is not necessarily helpful in solving them or finding their root cause.
Often when we work with clients to identify root causes to critical problems and disparities– e.g. student achievement, disciplinary referrals, lack of academic progress – we find that data is not disaggregated enough to be able to start getting at specific root causes. For example, to begin to understand what might be going on with student disciplinary referrals, you may need good data on rates of referrals by school, staff member, infraction, student type, timing, etc. When you can’t get this kind of data, you are forced to look at everything from 35,000 feet which is helpful in identifying broad patterns, but not in finding specific contributing factors to cause. There are almost always areas where the problem is nonexistent or not as big – we need to be able to identify those and start getting at why.
So we need those trees – they provide indispensable clues about the problem. We need to be able to see them up close – and then step back and see them in aggregate in order to be able to get the full picture. TregoED’s Problem Analysis technique can help us do both – but it is only as good as the data we are determined and courageous enough to examine.
Where do you need to look more closely at the “trees”?