The 4Ws Tool is a problem framing method that helps describing and interpreting a problem to arrive at a problem statement.


Framing a problem is all about identifying the right problem to solve and to understand it perfectly. By tendency, we often jump into problem-solving without critically evaluating the problem itself. The 4Ws method helps you taking time exploring a problem space and formulate a problem statement so you know what you are solving for.

The method consists in answering questions gathered in 4 categories:

  • Who: Who is facing the problem and would benefit from its future solution? Is it possible to narrow them down to a segment of the population? What do you know about them? Have you validated that the problem is real and can you prove it? 
  • What: Are you sure it's a problem? What is the nature of the problem? Can you explain it sumply? How do you know it's a problem? What is the evidence to support the problem? Is it openly stated or unconscious?
  • Where: In which context or situation do people experience the problem? Have you observed the problem in context? Can you describe that context? 
  • Why: Why do you believe it is a problem worth solving? Is it an acute problem for the people experiencing it? How acute?


Who is this tool for?When should the tool be used?

City practitioners in charge of multi-stakeholder groups

Local stakeholders

It should be used at the beginning of the project in order to get a clear understanding of the problem and can be repeated several times during the project cycle if needed. 

It also should be used when your team can't seem to agree on the problem your project is tackling.