In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. The phrase was originally used in social planning. Its modern sense was introduced in by C.

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In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. The phrase was originally used in social planning. Its modern sense was introduced in by C.

West Churchman in a guest editorial Churchman wrote in the journal Management Science , [3] responding to a previous use of the term by Horst Rittel. Churchman discussed the moral responsibility of operations research "to inform the manager in what respect our 'solutions' have failed to tame his wicked problems". Rittel and Melvin M.

Webber formally described the concept of wicked problems in a treatise , contrasting "wicked" problems with relatively "tame", soluble problems in mathematics , chess , or puzzle solving. Rittel and Webber's formulation of wicked problems in social policy planning specified ten characteristics: [4] [5]. Conklin later generalized the concept of problem wickedness to areas other than planning and policy; Conklin's defining characteristics are: [6].

Classic examples of wicked problems include economic , environmental , and political issues. A problem whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior is likely to be a wicked problem.

Therefore, many standard examples of wicked problems come from the areas of public planning and policy. These include global climate change , [7] natural hazards , healthcare , the AIDS epidemic, pandemic influenza , international drug trafficking , nuclear weapons , waste and social injustice.

In recent years, problems in many areas have been identified as exhibiting elements of wickedness; examples range from aspects of design decision making and knowledge management [8] to business strategy [9] to space debris.

Rittel and Webber coined the term in the context of problems of social policy, an arena in which a purely scientific-engineering approach cannot be applied because of the lack of a clear problem definition and differing perspectives of stakeholders.

In their words,. The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail because of the nature of these problems Policy problems cannot be definitively described.

Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the indisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about "optimal solutions" to these problems Even worse, there are no solutions in the sense of definitive answers. Thus wicked problems are also characterised by the following: [ citation needed ].

Although Rittel and Webber framed the concept in terms of social policy and planning, wicked problems occur in any domain involving stakeholders with differing perspectives. A recurring theme in research and industry literature is the connection between wicked problems and design. Wicked problems cannot be tackled by the traditional approach in which problems are defined, analysed and solved in sequential steps.

The main reason for this is that there is no clear problem definition of wicked problems. In a paper published in , Nancy Roberts identified the following strategies to cope with wicked problems: [17]. In his paper, [18] Rittel hints at a collaborative approach; one which attempts "to make those people who are being affected into participants of the planning process. They are not merely asked but actively involved in the planning process".

A disadvantage of this approach is that achieving a shared understanding and commitment to solving a wicked problem is a time-consuming process. Another difficulty is that, in some matters, at least one group of people may hold an absolute belief that necessarily contradicts other absolute beliefs held by other groups. Collaboration then becomes impossible until one set of beliefs is relativized or abandoned entirely. Research over the last two decades has shown the value of computer-assisted argumentation techniques in improving the effectiveness of cross-stakeholder communication.

In "Wholesome Design for Wicked Problems", Robert Knapp stated that there are ways forward in dealing with wicked problems:. The first is to shift the goal of action on significant problems from "solution" to "intervention. Examining networks designed to tackle wicked problems in health care, such as caring for older people or reducing sexually transmitted infections , Ferlie and colleagues suggest that managed networks may be the "least bad" way of "making wicked problems governable".

A range of approaches called problem structuring methods PSMs have been developed in operations research since the s to address problems involving complexity, uncertainty and conflict. PSMs are usually used by a group of people in collaboration rather than by a solitary individual to create a consensus about, or at least to facilitate negotiations about, what needs to change. Some widely adopted PSMs include soft systems methodology , the strategic choice approach, and strategic options development and analysis SODA.

Russell L. Ackoff wrote about complex problems as messes: "Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems I choose to call such a system a mess. Extending Ackoff, Robert Horn says that "a Social Mess is a set of interrelated problems and other messes. Complexity—systems of systems—is among the factors that makes Social Messes so resistant to analysis and, more importantly, to resolution. According to Horn, the defining characteristics of a social mess are: [29].

Schumacher distinguishes between divergent and convergent problems in his book A Guide for the Perplexed. Convergent problems are those for which attempted solutions gradually converge on one solution or answer.

Divergent problems are those for which different answers appear to increasingly contradict each other all the more they are elaborated, requiring a different approach involving faculties of a higher order like love and empathy. In , DeGrace and Stahl introduced the concept of wicked problems to software development.

The design and integration of complex software-defined services that use the Web web services can be construed as an evolution from previous models of software design, and therefore becomes a wicked problem also. Kelly Levin, Benjamin Cashore, Graeme Auld and Steven Bernstein introduced the distinction between "wicked problems" and "super wicked problems" in a conference paper, which was followed by a journal article in Policy Sciences.

In their discussion of global climate change , they define super wicked problems as having the following additional characteristics: [33]. While the items that define a wicked problem relate to the problem itself, the items that define a super wicked problem relate to the agent trying to solve it. Global warming is a super wicked problem, and the need to intervene to tend to our longer term interests has also been taken up by others, including Richard Lazarus.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Main article: Problem structuring methods.

Category:Problem structuring methods Collaborative information seeking Competing harms Complex question Drama theory Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential Hard problem of consciousness Ludic fallacy Morphological analysis Nonlinear system Post-normal science Problem solving Small Is Beautiful Social issue Soft systems methodology Structured systems analysis and design method Systems theory.

Australian Public Service Commission. Retrieved 9 November West December Management Science. Policy Sciences. Archived from the original PDF on 30 September Chichester, England: Wiley Publishing. Rittel Issues as Elements of Information Systems. Heidelberg, Germany. Organization Studies. Accounting, Organizations and Society.

Public Sphere Project. Retrieved 8 November In Gass, Saul I. Encyclopedia of operations research and management science 3rd ed. New York; London: Springer Verlag. Cornell Law Review. Ackoff, Russell Redesigning the Future. London: Wiley. Harvard Business Review. In Kirschner, P.

B; Carr, C. London: Springer. CogNexus Institute. NextDesign Leadership Institute Journal. Decision Support Systems. Strategy Kinetics L. Hulet Yourdon Press. Cambridge University Press. Lazarus, Richard James Acta Morphologica Generalis. Retrieved 7 October Cross ed. International Public Management Review. International Public Management Network.

Buckingham An Introduction to Information Systems Engineering. International Journal of Design.


Dilemmas in a general theory of planning

Dialogue Mapping. Issue Mapping. Wicked Problems. Related Works.


Strategy as a Wicked Problem

Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel 14 July — 9 July was a design theorist and university professor. He is best known for coining the term wicked problem , [1] but his influence on design theory and practice was much wider. His field of work is the science of design , or, as it also known, the area of design theories and methods DTM , with the understanding that activities like planning, engineering, policy making are included as particular forms of design. Rittel was born in Berlin. Rittel coined the term wicked problem in the mids to describe the ill-defined problems of planning. IBIS for issue-based information system is the instrumental version of the understanding of design as argumentation. A number of computer-based versions of IBIS have been and are being developed for various computer systems personal computers and workstations.


Horst Rittel


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