The New Practice of Public Problem Solving

Article/Op-Ed in Stanford Social Innovation Review
Feb. 18, 2019

Anne-Marie Slaughter and Tara McGuinness wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review about how a new class of innovators is advancing the public good by figuring out what people actually need and then testing, improving, and scaling solutions that may already be out there.

Does your policy or solution work for the people it is intended to help or serve? This is the fundamental question that today’s problem solvers and policy makers must ask themselves. It is remarkable how often the answer is no.
Even impactful national policies often do not comprehensively deliver for those who need them the most. According to the Brookings Institution, as many as one in seven students eligible for financial aid for college do not complete the federal form required to access that aid. More than half of the nine million children ages 2 to 4 who are eligible for the US Department of Agriculture’s supplemental food assistance program do not receive the immunizations and nutrition support and other benefits it offers, according to statistics from 2015.1 Six states and the District of Columbia have passed family leave policies, but California, despite having had this benefit for over a decade, has yet to reach a majority of those eligible.
Government officials across federal, state, and local levels are beginning to explore new ways to connect policies and people. Moreover, many activists, nongovernmental organizations, and social entrepreneurs have chosen to bypass the policy-making process altogether and experiment with direct-service solutions to tackle public problems such as homelessness, maternal and infant mortality, elementary and secondary education, and workforce development. These efforts are not just local charities trying to help those in need in their communities; nonprofit and government leaders are experimenting with ways to actually solve the problems that they see.