What makes Future Problem Solving so worthwhile?

Watch a TED Talk on YouTube for a New Zealand student's perspective.


A dozen power strategies

1. When brainstorming, write your ideas on small sticky notes with each team member using a different colored pad. Sticky notes are easy to move around the table, and the color helps identify the author of the idea. This is helpful because it is generally better for the originator of the challenge to write and explain the idea in the blank booklet.

2. Read the instructions for step 1 printed in the blank booklet before writing challenges. This
provides you with a last minute reminder of details to include in your description of the challenge. (Do this for every other step as well.)

Go back and highlight the future scene charge before examining challenges for an underlying problem.

Test your underlying problem concept by briefly brainstorming solutions. If you find it particularly difficult, expand the focus or choose another area.

Use a thesaurus when selecting or reviewing a key verb. It is worth the time required at this point (but probably no other).

6. The underlying problem should deal directly with the problem. Avoid “generic” key verbs such as “educate” and “convince.”

7. Completion of step 2 is generally considered the half-way point in the process. Teams should carefully evaluate their progress at this time and adjust accordingly.

8. When brainstorming solution ideas, keep your underlying problem in plain sight on the table in front of you so you can refer to it frequently.

9. Begin each solution idea with WHO will “solve” the underlying problem. This will give you one of the three necessary components to earn elaboration credit. Since you obviously must write the WHAT of your idea, that only leaves a WHY and/or HOW for full credit.

10. Two team members rank ordering solutions on the evaluation grid is usually more efficient than all four team members contributing their opinions.

11. Don’t try to manipulate the evaluation grid so that it selects your favorite idea. If you chose good criteria, the grid will yield a sound verdict.

12. Don’t risk leaving out important parts of your action plan. Read the instructions printed in the booklet rather than depending on memory.
How to submit booklets

For Practice Problems (one and two), submit booklets following the directions printed on the cover sheets issued by VAFPS. Be sure to observe posted deadlines.
For qualifying problem submissions, make two (2) copies of each team/individual booklet and cover sheet. Send the original booklet with cover sheet attached plus one copy of the booklet and cover sheet to the VAFPS Evaluation Director on or before the submission deadline date. Use first class mail. (Do not send by certified mail.) Keep the second copy for your files since booklets will not be returned.
Names of students must be printed clearly on the cover sheet. After the qualifying problem evaluation has been completed, names on the cover sheet will be used to publish state bowl invitations on the program website and to prepare materials for the bowl. Spelling errors may occur if names are hard to read.
All work must be hand- written on an official blank FPS booklet.
No work should be done on the back of pages. Additional blank pages may be added if needed. Work submitted on the back of pages will not be evaluated.
The qualifying problem copy is used when a team/individual advances to a second round in the competition for a bowl invitation. Keep in mind that evaluators may not be able to adequately score work from a poorly made copy.

Improving Solution Scores

What about when and where (the two extra elaboration details that reporters are told to include)? FPSers don’t get credit for adding time and place to a solution because they have already identified those parameters in the underlying problem. As a matter of fact, the elements of where and when should not appear in the solution at all! They frequently damage the impact of the idea by making it appear less believable and persuasive. Time and place won’t add points to solutions and they muddy the clarity of the ideas. Leave them out.

So what is the best way to elaborate? Remember, the idea of elaboration is to strengthen the connection between the solution and your underlying problem. You are explaining more fully how the proposal solves your underlying problem. Probably the easiest method for earning an elaboration bonus is to begin with the “who” element. Identifying who will develop the solution is extremely important to the impact and effectiveness of the solution idea, so beginning with the agent of creation is logical and straightforward. Think of solutions like this: somebody is going to do something and here is why or how. Since the proposal itself (what) counts as one of three, and the executer of the plan (who) is another one of three, all you have to do to earn full elaboration credit is to explain how or why. You can, of course, include both how and why, but you may not have enough time to devote that much attention to each idea.

Writing solutions with this step-by-step procedure is a good way to discipline the team to maximize solution points. Later, as you progress as a problem solver, you may want to vary your writing style to avoid formulaic composition. Writing each solution in the same way can be boring and feel repetitious. Always include the person or agency responsible for creating or producing the solution, but place that detail in the middle or end of the description.

Many teams struggle with issue of who should solve underlying problems. You don’t want to list specific people from our current society (such as Bill Gates) because that removes the element of futurism from the solution and may harm the team’s ability to create an effective action plan. As an alternative, look at the position, qualities, or qualifications that current innovators possess. For example, “The C.E.O. of a major software corporation will support the development of a new phone app that. . .”

Also consider the person, group of people, or specific department within an organization that would have an impact on the solution idea you are suggesting. Simply stating that "the government" will do something is too broad and imprecise to earn credit.

Teams wishing to create new organizations or companies should specify the department within the company that would be responsible for implementing the solution. For example, “The Department of Research and Development at SAFE [Safe and Friendly Environments] will invent a new type of detergent for cleaning oil spills that . . .”

Don’t rely on one person or agency to implement more than two solutions. The same “who” used in multiple solutions will only count toward elaboration twice.

Finally, remember that only relevant solutions can be considered for elaboration points. Use creativity and knowledge of process components, but always keep the focus squarely on your underlying problem.


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