Prominent former officials and opinion leaders from North and South America yesterday opened a six-month effort to identify and help solve major problems between the regions.

Called the Inter-American Dialogue, the program is designed to overcome a "sporadic and halfhearted" interest in hemispheric concerns, according to former ambassador Sol M. Linowitz, co-chairman of a two-day opening meeting along with former president of Ecuador Galo Plaza, who also served as secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Linowitz headed a 22-member private U.S. commission in 1974 that produced wide-ranging policy declarations which, in part, provided the basis for significant segments of the Carter administration's Latin America program.

Thirty of the 48 participants in the Inter-American Dialogue gathered yesterday for the opening session. The program is sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution and is coordinated by the director of the center's Latin America program, Abraham F. Lowenthal.

"We tend to take Latin America for granted, or to use the region to score points or to teach lessons, but not to build constructive relations," Linowitz said. "We need to reverse the drift and deterioration in inter-American relationships and in communication between north and south."

Directors of the program said that in order to assure "frank discussions," none of the participants currently holds a high position in a national government. The purpose of the opening session, according to the sponsors, is to identify issues for study and discussion at later general meetings. A commission staff will operate between sessions.