Scoping: seven phase framework

Scoping of complex social and environmental problems can be undertaken using the following seven phase framework.

Phase 1: Analyse the Context

  • When did the problem attract attention?
  • Who raised the problem? How was the decision to do something about the problem arrived at? What do those who raised the problem expect? What is their general situation?
  • How did you and your group decide to work on the problem? Are you the best people for the job? What do those who raised the problem know about you?
  • Is there anybody who is against understanding and tackling the problem? What are the objections?
  • What experience do those who raised the problem have in terms of working with researchers on problems such as the current one? If there is previous experience, are there lessons to be learnt for doing things similarly or differently for the current problem?

Phase 2: Specify Objectives

  • Who will recognize that the goal of improved understanding and action on the problem is achieved? How will somebody recognize that the goal is achieved?
  • What exactly is to be understood and changed?
  • Who is affected positively or negatively by increasing understanding and the change that is expected?
  • What exactly is the positive or negative impact of increasing understanding and the change?

Phase 3: Analyse Previous Strategies to Understand and Tackle the Problem

  • What has been successful in the past?
  • What were the conditions? What was done to achieve the goal?
  • If there are no past successes to draw on, what evidence is there that the objectives are realistic?

Phase 4: Review Potential Opposition

  • Who could prevent improved understanding and change on the problem? Or even reverse the change (in case the objective was achieved)? What could he/she do?
  • Who could make the problem worse?

Phase 5: Assess Your Role

  • What can you and your group do to increase the chance of achieving the goal?
  • What can you and your group do to decrease the chance of achieving the goal?
  • Will you and your group be seen as partisan or neutral?

Phase 6: Look at Alternatives

  • Without you and your group, how would the problem be addressed? How would the goals be achieved?
  • If the problem is not addressed (with or without you and your group), how will it proceed?

Phase 7: Delineate Time Perspectives

  • How long do those who raised the problem expect it will take to achieve the goal?
  • Is the timeline for the involvement of you and your group realistic?

This framework is adapted from a nine-phase scoping tool for professional consultants to delineate a new consulting request, which is in The Change Management Toolbook (Nauheimer 1997). That tool in turn was adapted by the author and compiler, Holger Nauheimer, from Fritz Simon and Christel Rech-Simon’s book “Zirkuläres Fragen” (Circular Interviews) used in psychiatry.

Nauheimer, H. (1997). The change management toolbook. A collection of tools, methods and strategies. Open access online at: and at:

Simon, F. B. and Rech-Simon, C. (2004). Zirkuläres Fragen. Systemische Therapie in Fallbeispielen: Ein Lernbuch. 6. Auflage. Carl-Auer-Systeme-Verlag: Heidelberg, Germany

Weblog: Bammer, G. (2016). Two frameworks for scoping. Implementation and Implementation Insights weblog, August 16, 2016. Online:

Posted: October 2016
Last modified: October 2016