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See the context

There will be opportunities and limits to your policy, product or service. Understanding the context of the problem will help you find the best solution and know where best to focus your early work.

When to do it

Do this at an early stage of your work.

How to do it

You should:

  • use the PESTLE model to understand the factors that affect your work:

    • political

    • economic

    • social

    • technology

    • legal

    • environmental

  • rank the factors in order of importance

  • rank how certain you are that they will happen

  • consider what you can do to make important factors more certain

Try this activity

This activity will help you understand and respond to your environment. It will give you a plan for how to respond to aspects of your working environment.

Time, space and materials

  • 45 minutes

  • any space with a wall, sticky notes, paper, pens and some tape or somewhere to draw a grid for a face-to-face event

  • or for a remote event use a video conference and online whiteboard that will take the place of the wall and enable participants to add and move online ‘sticky notes’


  • write down your problem statement and clearly display it on your wall or online whiteboard (see chapter: examine your problem)

  • create 6 stations (areas of wall or online whiteboard where people can work together) named: political, economic, social, technology, legal, and environmental

People to include

  • your team and subject matter experts

  • any number of people

  • a facilitator to give the instructions


The purpose of this activity is to think about which factors you should plan around. The first part of the activity will help you identify these factors. The second half will help you prioritise them.

  1. Take your participants around each of the stations in turn. Repeat this task each time:

    • Write down all of the factors that drive or constrain change on sticky notes. You have 1 minute.

    • Stick your ideas to the wall. As you do so, read other people’s notes and group similar ideas. You have 1 minute.

    • Move on to the next station.

  2. When you have visited all the stations, assign a person or group of people to each station. They should read and organise the notes into themes. Label any themes that you find. Get ready to tell everyone what you have found. You have 3 minutes.

  3. In turn, one person at each station should provide a one minute summary.

  4. Now create a long horizontal line. It should be about 3 metres long. You can draw it on paper or use tape. The left end should be labelled ‘low importance’, the right end should be labelled ‘high importance’.

  5. Take the ideas from the stations and put them on the line in order of importance. You might want to move the position of your idea when you see where other people have put theirs. Discuss with others as you go. You have 5 minutes.

  6. One person should talk through the order of the ideas in just 1 minute.

  7. Now create a vertical line labelled ‘likely’ at the top and ‘unlikely’ at the bottom

  8. Everyone should each take a section of the horizontal importance line and move the ideas up or down depending on how certain you are that they will happen.

  9. Choose one person to report back on each box. Say what’s in that box. Confirm that they are in the right place. You have 1 minute each.

  10. Label each of the boxes and explain what each is to the participants:

    • must plan for (top right) – factors that our solution must respond to

    • just in case plan (bottom right) – factors that might happen, so we need to be prepared just in case they happen

    • monitor (top left) – things to monitor, but should be low impact

    • park (bottom left) – do not worry about these.

  11. You now have a list of things that could affect your work and a plan for how to treat each one.


  • do not be trapped by the PESTLE model – if some of the categories are not relevant do not use them or you can consider other categories such as ‘ethical’

  • take photographs after each stage to keep a record of your work

  • if you want to extend this activity, try running ‘hard policy’ – ‘soft policy’ under the ‘political’ section of PESTLE. Write down all the policies that could influence your problem space and divide them between two columns. Hard policy cannot be changed – these are polices that you must adapt to. Soft policies are ones where they could be changed with some encouragement – use your influencing skills here

Next steps

  • use this analysis to refine your problem statement

Further reading

Find out more about this topic by searching the internet for:

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