Testing this with a few friends, I have concluded that this quite possibly is the case, and I also received some stark warnings about the social, cultural, and psychological dimensions to school uniforms. These warnings are certainly valid, but many great in justices in this world have been toppled that were held up by social, cultural, and psychological factors. The question is, how big is the problem, how big are the barriers, and are our efforts best placed elsewhere?
It occurred to me that this is an opportunity to try out some strategic modelling and analysis, something that I do often in my current work. I have already completed the first step of forming a hypothesis and testing with a few peers. To pursue the problem further I would take the following steps:
- Form a hypothesis:
- The unnecessary requirement for school uniforms in developing countries puts undue financial stress on families already struggling to afford basic necessities and/or tuition, and potentially even excludes some children from attendance.
- Test hypothesis at a high level
- Gather whatever evidence is at hand or easily available to sense-check and/or refine the hypothesis. Might the hypothesis be true? Is it likely enough to be true enough to warrant further investigation?
- Estimate the magnitude of the problem/scale of the potential benefits from taking action
- This will be much like a top-down strategic business case. The key focus will be "What if we could achieve a change?" without yet talking specifically about what actions would be required. Like the previous step, this is another gate we have to pass where we must be certain it is worthwhile proceeding. The output can also be an important number socially, as $x million lost per year or y thousand children excluded from primary education worldwide can be a useful catalyst for change as it is shared and repeated.
- Develop a portfolio of initiatives
- Preferably in a brainstorming/facilitated workshop environment, work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to generate potential initiatives or interventions to address the problem.
- Prioritize initiatives
- Estimate costs, benefits, and risks of each initiative and then build an action plan, selecting the highest benefit set of activities that fit within your budget or capacity while managing/minimizing risk. This is a classic Operations Research portfolio optimization knapsack problem, though in practice, problem sizes are small mathematics are rarely used.