Identifying Problems and Generating Solutions under Conditions of Conflict
Discussion is sometimes poorly suited for solving problems, e.g., when it exacerbates rather than moderates conflict and reduces the likelihood of locating promising solutions. It is proposed that relatively unguided interviews in tandem with Q methodology optimize the possibility of pinpointing problems and locating whatever consensus may exist concerning solutions. A case study is presented of a middle school faculty locked in disagreement about how best to deal with accelerating levels of student misconduct. Interviews with teachers, staff, and administration produced a concourse of problem statements, the Q sorting and factor analysis of which revealed two groups: The Resentful regarded misconduct in the context of a community-wide disrespect for teachers, whereas the Differentiating distinguished between good vs. bad students, and effective vs. ineffective teachers. A consensus on discipline as a central problem led to a second round of interviews and Q sorts focused on possible solutions. The revealed consensus among the three solution factors provided a basis for policy formulation designed to alleviate the problem. Concluding comments address the utility of the procedures employed for problem solving more generally.