Current Solutions to Major Social Problems Are Like a Jigsaw Puzzle with Missing Pieces
Many of the solutions to our major social problems (e.g., homelessness, drug overdoses, children with mental health problems and declining test scores, social isolation of the elderly) are like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that don’t fit together, and we may have missing pieces and don’t even know it.
I recently was in a session with the Executive branch’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), also known as the Drug Czar’s Office, and shared the attached PowerPoint presentation. While the slides are primarily about substance abuse prevention (and treatment), the concept illustrated in slides 4 and 5 appears to be a very good metaphor that applies to many of our social problems including homelessness in that our solutions are like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that don’t necessarily fit together, and we may have missing pieces and don’t even know it.
In the session, one of my two major points was that I propose that there are many jigsaw puzzle pieces (e.g., different organizations such as federal, state, and county agencies; community coalitions; law enforcement; schools; researchers; training and TA centers; and lots of empirical evidence with more coming in every day), and how does this all fit together so that communities can improve their outcomes? Does it all fit together or are there missing key pieces that key stake holders can identify?
In July 2022, I also participated in a National Academy of Sciences Committee meeting on Building (Re-Building) Public Trust in Emergency Preparedness and Response that was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In that discussion, the participants provided a wealth of stimulating ideas. I did a brief presentation on “Where do we go from here? How do we put this into action?” and adapted the Interactive Systems Framework for dissemination and implementation (slide 9) to help provide a way to put the “jigsaw puzzle” pieces of excellent ideas and experience into a framework that can put guidelines into action. I co-developed the framework with colleagues at CDC to bridge the gap between research and practice. I sense a similar need with the ideas in the Drug Strategy and many other strands around drug prevention (and intervention) programs and policies with the wealth of articles and websites and email threads on the topics of equity and inclusion and health.
Contributed by founder Abe Wandersman
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