Guidance for work on the symphysis proposal

In contrast to the first half of the project work, the Reflect! platform does not provide much guidance for the second half. Along the lines of self-directed learning, teams need to figure out on their own how to reach the final goal.

The goal itself provides the main guidance. The final deliverable includes (1.) a revised problem formulation; (2.) a list of all those stakeholders that should be taken into account if the problem is formulated as suggested; (3.) the final symphysis proposal; and (4.) justifications for all components of the symphysis proposal. On this page you find criteria that help you to assess the quality of each of them. Use these criteria for your work during this critical phase.


  • Besides the list of stakeholders, everything needs to be written in complete sentences: the problem formulation; the proposal; and the reasons in the justifications.

1. Revised problem description

Criteria for assessing the problem formulation:

  1. The problem must be a wicked problem, and it must be clear that the problem is wicked. Check the definition of wicked problem.
  2. The context in which the problem occurs is clearly described.
  3. It is clear why the problem matters; why it is important; why it is unavoidable.
  4. The boundaries of the problem are clearly determined and the focus of the project is clear.
  5. It is clear what the (ethical) issues are.
  6. It is clear in which setting the team locates itself (a committee with a specific task, or something like that)
  7. It is clear what the task in this setting is. The goal is clear.


  • The problem needs to be formulated so that it can only be addressed by a proposal.
    • No questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no”
    • No questions that provide a choice between two options
    • No questions about what might happen in the future
    • No questions for which the answer is not a proposal
  • The Problem formulation should be written without proposing anything. The description of the problem needs to be clearly separated from things that can be done to solve or manage it. The latter is the point of the proposal, not of the problem formulation.
  • The problem formulation needs to be written so that it fits to the proposal. If the proposal is addressing a specific problem, this specificity of the problem needs to be clear in the problem formulation.
  • It is acceptable that the problem formulation gets narrower over time. If the symphysis proposal that is needed to cope with the problem becomes too complex, it will not be possible to create all the justifications in limited time. The goal is to develop a proposal of high quality (i.e., one that can rather easily be justified). This cannot be achieved if too many problems need to be tackled. However, the problem needs to remain a wicked problem.

2. List of stakeholders

  • Narrowing down the problem means that the number of relevant stakeholders decreases. This is not a problem.
  • Make sure that no stakeholders are missing.

3. Symphysis proposal

  • Proposals should only contain things that are proposed; no justifications, no story about how the team got there. The problem formulation should tell a story, but not the proposal.
  • Check the definitions of proposal and symphysis proposal.
  • Proposing that there should be legislation or regulation in the future is simply kicking the can down the road. It is the teams’ task to outline such legislation or regulation.
  • Criteria for a good symphysis proposal:
    • Its components are consistent. No contradictions
    • All questions that are raised in the problem description are addressed. Nothing remains unanswered. (If not everything can be answered, then the problem should be defined more narrowly or there should be an explanation under “Considerations” on the “Justifications” page.)
    • The proposal talks only about things that are needed for the problem.
    • It is reasonable that all stakeholders would agree with all components of the symphysis proposal, or would at least be neutral.

4. Justifications

  • All components of the symphysis proposal must be justified.
  • According to the definition of argument, only reasons and a conclusion are part of an argument.
    • Most argument mapping software tools allow to add notes and comments. The reason boxes may not be used for these things.
    • Since the goal is to provide a justification, use objections only if you defeat them again by counter arguments.
  • For the assessment of arguments use these criteria here (currently not available).
  • Since the expectation is that the symphysis proposal is convincing, there is often no need for complex justifications.