Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 5)

Almost half way through the list of 10 properties of wicked problems. The next is **5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly**. This gets bit tricky as it is not as obvious as many of the other nine. Rittel and Webber say: > In the sciences and in fields like mathematics, chess, puzzle-solving or mechanical engineering design, the problem-solver can try various runs without penalty. . . A lost chess game is seldom consequential for other chess games or for non-chess-players. . . With wicked planning problems, however, every implemented solution is consequential.… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 4)

The next property in the list of ten is: **4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem**. This property follows from the general characteristics of complexity. These systems include many interlinked feedback loops and delays. Any designed perturbation must work its way through the system, a process which may take a significant time to show up. Rittel and Webber say, > With wicked problems . . . after being implemented, will generate waves of consequences over an extended–virtually an unbounded–period of time. Moreover, the next day’s consequences of the solution may yield utterly undesirable repercussions which outweigh the intended advantages or the… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 3)

Continuing the discussion of Rittel and Webber’s article about wicked problems, the third property is 3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad. This follows directly from property 1 which argues that there is no definite way of formulating a wicked problem. If we cannot reduce a wicked problem to a set of analytic relationships, then there is no way of testing the truth of the solution. R & W say: > For wicked planning problems, there are no true or false answers. Normally, many parties are equally equipped, interested, and/or entitled to judge the solutions, although none has the power to set formal decision rules to determine… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Properties 1 & 2)

This is my first post as an octogenarian; my birthday was yesterday. It doesn’t seem much different today. The world out there is in just as bad shape. My last post was an introduction to the idea of wicked problems. Here’s the next installment. Rittel and Webber list 10 properties of this class of problems. I’ll take a few at a time. It’s important to make a connection between their discussion and complexity. With just a small adjustment, their characterization fits any attempt to govern or guide a complex system. The “problem” to be addressed is usually a difference in the present state of the system and that desired. In… Read More

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Back to Basics 7: Complexity and Wicked Problems

The new trimester at Marlboro College Graduate Center started this week. I am doing my course on (sustainable?) consumption for the second time and giving another for the first time. This one is designed to tie together the four earlier courses in he Exploring Sustainability sequence and carries the subtitle: Ideas into Action. Preparing and teaching a course always refreshes old ideas and brings new ones to expand what I already have gotten familiar with. I always reread the assignments I give the students and this blog post and others to come arise from this practice. The introductory reading is a great paper with a not so zingy title, Dilemmas… Read More

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Growthism

I have just finished teaching a course to my peers at the Harvard Institute of Learning in Retirement. My teaching brackets two widely separated age groups: my 70-80 year-old peers at HILR and the 25-year olds that typify my students at the Marlboro MBA program I often mention. The HILR course, Berry Picking, covered the writing of Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry with a few extras tossed in. I also finished a class at Marlboro covering much of the same kind of writing. The Marlboro class centered on the spiritual ground for sustainability; the HILR was more contained, focusing on our (the US) relationship to the land. There is, not… Read More

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