Lesson 5 - Step 2: Explore Alternatives








Step 2 - Exploring Alternatives


  • Case Study 2 - What Are Your Options?
  • Techniques for Generating Alternatives
  • Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives (Includes Job Aid)
Audio Script

The second step in the decision-making process is to explore alternative solutions to the problem identified in Step 1. This step really consists of two parts:

  • Generating alternatives
  • Evaluating alternatives

The case study presented below provides an opportunity to examine a problem and generate alternative solutions. Read the case study, then identify the problem and generate as many alternative solutions as you can.

Case Study 2: What Are Your Options?


Case Study


Auburn, Maine is a city of 24,000 located on the Androscoggin River, 50 miles north of Portland, USA. Like much of southern Maine, Auburn has a growing population of retirees and elderly persons, many of whom reside in assisted-living communities.

It is early December, and much of southwestern Maine has been under the influence of a low- pressure system. Unlike most nor’easters that occur regularly this time of year, however, this system features warm air aloft with below-freezing surface temperatures. Thus, the rain that is falling is freezing on roads, trees, and electric lines. Electricity has been interrupted to a large portion of the city as wires collapse under the increasing weight of the accumulating ice.

At 11:00 p.m., the local emergency manager receives a call forwarded from emergency dispatch stating that the Owl’s Nest nursing home’s generator has failed. Owl’s Nest is a nursing home, assisted-living community of approximately 250 residents. Of those, approximately 80 have been affected by the generator failure. These patients are in the nursing home portion of the facility, and many are chronically ill and very susceptible to the effects of the cold and dampness.  For now, the Owl’s Nest administrator has gathered the affected residents in the recreation   room and is using blankets to keep them warm. This is not a good long-term option, however, because the temperature is expected to drop into the teens by morning.

Answers (Review Case Study Before Opening)

What is the problem in this case study?

If you determined that the problem in this case study centers around how to keep the nursing home residents warm, your answer is correct. (Note: If your problem statement centers on either the weather or the failed generator, please review the problem identification section of this unit again. Both the weather and the failed generator are causes of the current problem.)

What alternatives are available?

Some of the options that you may have developed for this case study could be:

  • Evacuate the affected residents to another portion of the facility or to a shelter.
  • Bring in more blankets, hot drinks, etc., to keep the residents warm.
  • Bring in a portable generator and commercial space heater.

You may have developed other alternatives as well. Remember, at this point in the problem- solving process, you should be generating alternatives only, not evaluating the feasibility of the alternatives.

Techniques for Generating Alternatives & Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives

Techniques for Generating Alternatives

So, what process did you use to generate the alternatives for the case study? There are three ways to generate alternatives.


  1. Brainstorming can be done individually or in a Brainstorming requires an environment in which the participants (individuals or group members) are free to “think out loud.” Participants blurt out as many ideas as possible within a specified time period. No evaluation of ideas is permitted so as to encourage the free flow of creative ideas. These ideas are recorded. When the specified time period ends, then evaluation of the ideas begins.
  2. Surveys economically tap the ideas of a large group of Surveys present respondents with the problem and a series of alternative solutions.
  3. Discussion groups should consist of those who are directly involved in decision In generating alternatives, the group members should:
  • Be comprehensive.
  • Avoid initial judgments (as in brainstorming).
  • Focus on the problem, not on the personalities of the people involved in the decision-making process. (But be sensitive to the impact of personalities on the process.)
Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives

After you have generated alternative solutions, you must have some means of evaluating them. Step 2 Job Aid lists criteria by which you can evaluate alternatives.

Another part of evaluation is identifying contingencies—what could go wrong. Think in terms of Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) and identify what could get in the way of solving the problem you are facing.

Step 2 Job Aid: Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives

1. Identify Constraints: Do any of the following factors serve as a limitation on this solution?

• Technical (limited equipment or technology)
• Political (legal restrictions or ordinances)
• Economic (cost or capital restrictions)
• Social (restrictions imposed by organized groups with special interests)
• Human resources (limited ability of relevant people to understand or initiate certain actions)
• Time (requirements that a solution be found within a prescribed time period, thereby eliminating consideration of long-range solutions)

2. Determine Appropriateness: Does this solution fit the circumstances?
3. Verify Adequacy: Will this option make enough of a difference to be worth doing?
4. Evaluate Effectiveness: Will this option meet the objective?
5. Evaluate Efficiency: What is the cost/benefit ratio of this option?
6. Determine Side Effects: What are the ramifications of this option?

Step 2 Job Aid can be printed or downloaded. It can also be found at the beginning of this course.






Lesson 5 - Step 2: Explore Alternatives








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