Challenge Statements

Stating your challenge in the form of a 'how might we.... ?' question helps people to connect with the problem frame in order to begin to solve for it.
A challenge statement is a description of your problem in a way that you are able to solve for it. It speaks to the urgency of the problem, is a call-to-action for others to be involved and inspires hope for change.
Crafting a Challenge Statement by Alex Ryan

Effective vs. Ineffective Challenge Statements

A good challenge statement is:
  • A ‘how-might-we’ question
  • Provides context, importance, and urgency to work on solving the problem
  • Points to complexity and barriers, but also opportunity and hope
  • Obviously actionable
  • Indicates how you will know when interventions and solutions work: early signs and signals, evidence, metrics: indicators and measures
  • It’s iterative, a starting hypothesis – start anywhere and go from there
An ineffective challenge statement is presenting the problem as:
  • Really a solution
  • Just a symptom(s)
  • Only a collection of problems lumped together
  • Too far downstream towards solutions and not sufficiently upstream towards root causes
  • Basically, about moving the problem onto someone else’s plate


Effective Challenge Statements
Ineffective Challenge Statements
Why are these challenge statements ineffective?
How might we leverage existing social capital to address increasing rates of loneliness in the Canadian senior population?
How do we get seniors to connect more to their community?
Sends a solution by assuming that seniors should connect to their community as the way forward.
How might we create market and policy conditions that enable automated vehicles to support safe, equitable, and efficient transportation models for Toronto and
How do we use congestion pricing to efficiently manage the adoption of automated vehicles?
Not upstream enough towards root causes of adoption of automated vehicles and efficiency. Proposes a solution.
How might municipal procurement be designed to increase impactful innovation procurement?
How might innovators better position themselves to be procured by municipalities?
Moves the problem onto someone else’s plate.

Instructions: How to develop a challenge statement

1) Identify sets of tension What are the main sets of tensions in your wicked questions on your complex problem? That is, what are the underlying tensions in the paradoxes you have identified? What makes this problem so difficult? Come up with 2 or 3 sets of tensions.
2) Identify underlying assumptions What are your underlying assumptions? That is, what are the assumptions you are making in the tensions that you identified?
Identifying the tensions and assumptions in the problem you're trying to solve helps you to better understand the problem frame.
3) Write a challenge statement Now, describe your problem as a challenge statement, and write it down. This can be used as a starting point for systems mapping, but also as the hypothesis of your theory for change. Use the format of "How...might... we.... ?" to craft your statement. Click the link below for more information on drafting your theory for change.