How To Examine a Solution for Externalities

We have many problems in the world today and honestly are pretty good as a species at solving them. What we are not so good at is considering what other consequences our solution to a problem might have. A simple example would be if we decided to kill a spider in our house with a flame thrower, clearly there might be some side effects to this decision that we do not want. Now an example that might be less obvious imagine a company that has some sort of chemical that they need to dispose of and have the option of dumping it into a river for free or paying to have it properly disposed of. The externalities of this decision might be the sea life dying or perhaps a community down river’s water gets polluted with something not fit for human consumption.

You see it is not difficult to think of scenarios with an unknown amount of downstream consequences that come from one solution to a problem that did not fully think through what might happen. You may be wondering why this is important to focus on and I believe that this approach to problem solving has led to the slew of problems that we face as a people. Optimally we would have access to a range of experts on different categories to help ensure that any solution we are pushing forward with doesn’t have any potential pitfalls down the road.

Chat GPT has this to say about the different categories to consider when working through a problem and I could totally agree. Bear in mind that this is something else that needs to be iterated on and could be missing important categories or groups to consider but is a good starting point.

When working on a solution to a problem, it is important to consider potential impacts on the following categories of expertise:

  1. Technical expertise: This includes knowledge and skills in a particular field, such as engineering, computer science, medicine, or environmental science. It is important to consider the technical implications of any solution to ensure that it is feasible and effective.
  2. Economic expertise: This includes knowledge of financial systems, markets, and the economy. It is important to consider the economic impacts of any solution, such as the cost of implementation, potential savings, and any unintended consequences.
  3. Social expertise: This includes understanding the social and cultural implications of any solution, such as its impact on community relationships, social norms, and values. It is important to consider how a solution may affect different groups of people and ensure that it is inclusive and equitable.
  4. Environmental expertise: This includes knowledge of environmental systems, such as ecology and sustainability. It is important to consider the potential environmental impacts of any solution, such as carbon emissions, pollution, and resource depletion.
  5. Legal expertise: This includes knowledge of laws, regulations, and policies that may affect the proposed solution. It is important to consider any legal barriers or requirements that may need to be addressed in the solution.
  6. Ethical expertise: This includes understanding the ethical implications of any solution, such as whether it is morally justifiable, respects human dignity, and promotes human welfare. It is important to consider the ethical implications of a solution to ensure that it aligns with ethical principles and values.

As individuals it is difficult to become an expert in any of these categories let alone all of them and consulting an expert is probably not feasible for every problem you face. But it is important to consider each of these and try and do our own research thinking about the problem and your potential solution from the perspective of each of this different categories completely in isolation. Then once you have considered the impacts from all of these different perspectives you can bring all of the data together and start to weigh whether or not your solution is something that you feel is right to even move forward with.

The beauty to this approach is once you hone in on where the biggest red flag is you can reach out to an expert in that category or a leader from a community that might be impacted by a decision and talk to them. This would happen before you even began to implement your solution so you can say “Here is a problem that I’m facing or -insert some community- is facing and I have come up with -insert whatever solution- but was worried it might impact you in -insert the potential impacts- and wanted to see if you agreed with my analysis and could offer any suggestions?”. With this approach you not only have prevented some potential downstream impacts to a community but you have potentially recruited an ally who shares your concerns on a problem and is an expert in a certain category or community.

Some things to keep in mind for any of this examination to be effective is you need to have a well defined problem before/while you are doing this analysis. What does a well defined problem look like (More on this soon, feels like an important topic to cover) it is a problem that you can explain with relative ease and be able to answer basic questions from each category. Simple example “is the proposed solution legal?” and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily the end of that potential solution it is a very important data point to keep in mind while looking to move it forward. To be clear I am not advocating for the breaking of the law but there are laws out there that need to be reevaluated with these very principles regularly to ensure that they are still relevant and doing more good than harm.

If some of this is starting to sound familiar it is because this and A Solutions Framework Build for Iteration are two pieces of the same puzzle as well as A Potential Future for Social Media. These themes are meant to help layout a way forward for solving problems that everyone can be happy with and benefit from. This of course is a lengthy process especially at first and it’s to be expected that mistakes are made, that is why you need to iterate and not just set up a solution and forget about it. We all need to take ownership of our successes and mistakes to ensure that we start helping to lift each other up instead of tear each other down. I hope that you found this helpful and can start solving problems in a way that benefits everyone!

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