The Solutionary Process: 14 Steps to Developing Solutions That Do the Most Good and Least Harm

The Solutionary Process: 14 Steps to Developing Solutions That Do the Most Good and Least Harm

For today’s blog, we’re excerpting our 14-step Solutionary Process from the newly-revised edition of Zoe Weil’s book, The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries. The process is also described in detail in both the Institute for Humane Education’s free digital Solutionary Guidebook for educators and the free How to Be a Solutionary guide for students and changemakers. Whether or not you are a formal educator, you can use this process yourself. Just choose a problem of concern to you and build your solutionary practice!

1. Cultivate compassion.

Introduce your students to issues in their community and the world that impact people, animals, and the environment. Share stories of individuals (people and animals) who are experiencing challenges or enduring suffering to awaken and foster their compassion.

2. Learn about issues in your community and in the world.

Invite your students to learn more about the issues you brought to their attention in step 1, encouraging them to focus on an issue that they care about deeply. Have them conduct research and investigate the issue to gain a solid understanding of it.

3. Identify a specific problem you care about solving.

Have your students identify a specific problem that they uncover in their research – one they want to solve. Have them write a clear problem statement to guide their solutionary work.

4. Connect with stakeholders and those working to solve the problem.

Help your students connect with everyone they can who has a stake in the problem, including those who are already working to solve it. Stakeholders include not only those who are harmed by the problem (or the people representing them if the problem revolves around animals or the environment), but also those who are benefiting from the problem and the systems that support it.

5. Identify the causes of the problem from systemic structures to psychological factors, worldviews, and mindsets.

Using a systems thinking methodology like the one described in  The Solutionary Guidebook, have students dive deeper into their research and investigation to understand the societal systems that are causing and perpetuating the problem, as well as the deeper causes – such as beliefs, mindsets, and psychological factors – that have led us to create those systems.

6. Determine who and what is harmed by the problem, and who and what benefits.

Problems usually impact more than we initially notice. Have students identify everyone who is impacted, both positively and negatively, including all people, animals, and the environment.

7. Research what has been done to solve the problem thus far.

Have your students investigate the different solutions that have already been tried. What’s worked? What’s failed? What great ideas could be improved upon? What systems are preventing good solutions from spreading widely and becoming fully implemented?

8. Devise solutions that address the causes of the problem, and which do the most good and least harm to people, animals, and the environment.

Mentor and support your students as they develop solutions that address the causes of the problem so it doesn’t continue. Help them understand that humanitarian and charitable acts, while important, won’t prevent the problem from persisting. Guide them in devising solutions that do the most good and least harm to everyone, so that their solutions don’t cause unintended negative consequences to any groups or individuals, whether human or nonhuman.

9. Determine which solutions are most solutionary and most feasible for implementation.

Assist your students as they identify which of their ideas are (a) most solutionary and (b) most practical for implementation. Use this scale to help them identify (a).

The Solutionary Process: 14 Steps to Developing Solutions That Do the Most Good and Least Harm

The most feasible solution will be the one they are both excited about implementing and have the capacity to put into effect. NOTE: the most solutionary solution may not be the most feasible, so help your students find the sweet spot where they have the means to put one of their solutionary ideas into practice. It’s possible that they’ll come up with a solutionary way to put an existing, but languishing, solution into effect. This is a great way to be a solutionary!

10. Create a plan to implement your solution.

Using this planning chart as a guide (described in more detail in The Solutionary Guidebook), support your students in completing their plan.

The Solutionary Process: 14 Steps to Developing Solutions That Do the Most Good and Least Harm

11. Implement your solution. 

Support your students in implementing their solutions to the greatest degree possible within the constraints of your classroom and curriculum.

12. Present your work.

Ideally, your students will present their work in a classroom, school, and/or district forum, such as a Solutionary Fair or Solutionary Summit. We encourage students to follow these guidelines – or create their own innovative approach – for video submissions to the Institute for Humane Education for potential inclusion in our curated Solutionary YouTube Channel as well as to be eligible for an award.

13. Assess, share, iterate. 

We all become better solutionaries when we carefully evaluate our solutions, inform others by sharing our successes (as well as our failures), and make improvements along the way. Help your students to self-reflect, collect meaningful feedback and data, and adjust their solutionary efforts.

14. Celebrate!

Don’t forget to celebrate your students’ good work. Here are some ideas:

  • Host a mural-making party during which students share images and words to depict the world solutionaries like them will create.
  • Hold a Solutionary Council in which students publicly state why each classmate in the circle is a solutionary.
  • Plan a “good news” class highlighting the positive actions and outcomes of young solutionaries in the classroom and beyond.