Miscasting the Great Social Drama

I had intended to get back to basics as I come back after lying low for a while, but I have to take one of my periodic moves into the world of politics. A news [article](http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/06/27/massachusetts_others_eye_new_model_to_fund_social_programs/?page=full) in today’s Boston Globe caught my attention and triggered a flood of related thoughts. Here’s the headline and opening paragraph. > Investors may fund social programs > State exploring ‘pay for success’; Profits would be tied to cost savings > > Massachusetts could be among the first states in the country to raise money for social services by offering investors the chance to earn profits on programs they establish. After reading further, what I… Read More

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Excuses, Excuses

Settling into my summer routine has been more challenging than in most years. Part might be blamed on the fact that summer has hardly arrived given the cold and very wet weather so far. It’s the end of June and it is still almost electric blanket nights. Cool nights are wonderful sleeping conditions, but it has gone beyond that until a few days ago. My intentions are still to blog 2-4 times a week so hang in there. I am on the road until Thursday, but will try to catch a few moments to get back in the rhythm.

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 10)

This tenth and final property of wicked problems is quite different from the first nine. The first nine are all related to the nature of wicked problems. This one, 10. The planner has no right to be wrong, addresses the role of the planner or, more generally, anyone designated to “solve” the problem. At first, this rule may appear paradoxical. In solving ordinary or “tame” problems, as Rittel and Webber call them, the correctness of the solution is dictated by the accuracy of the analytic laws and the way they are applied. Presuming that the right choice of rules was made and the application was also correct, the resultant solution… Read More

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Being Unreasonable is Critical for Sustainability

I often note instances of synchronicity when something I have been writing about shows up elsewhere at about the same time. I have, if you have been following this blog, been focusing on complexity and its consequences in practice. The wicked problems series has one more to go. In a closely related topic, the NYTimes carried a very interesting and important story on its online edition. The headline, “Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth,” disguises the richness of the article. The gist is that our reasoning powers, rather than the output of something wired in the brain as an original, basic part of human nature, have developed… Read More

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The Earth Is Full

This is the headline of Tom Friedman’s [column](http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08friedman.html?ref=opinion) today. The first few paragraphs carry the same message as my post of yesterday. The only difference is that several orders of magnitude more readers see his stuff than read mine. > You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when… Read More

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Facing the Facts

It is both surprising and welcome to find a story in the New York Times that paints the future in the stark terms it deserves, unless something happens to change course dramatically. > > Try to imagine a world with three Americas. Three giant economic powerhouses, with citizens who buy, sell and consume, all in pursuit of their versions of the American Dream. Difficult to envision? But that’s where economists say we’re heading. > > The broad consensus is that China will overtake the U.S to become the world’s biggest economy within two decades. And by 2050, India will be as big as well. No technological optimism can possibly blunt… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 9)

Eight down and two to go. Rittel and Webber assert here that it is fruitless to try to resolve differences about how to solve a wicked problem by any sort of scientific or conventional “rational” argument. 9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution. The belief and norm filters kick in at this point in discussing the essence of the problem and the choices available to “solve” it. Sch�n and Rein, in Frame Reflection, develop a larger theory about this issue in particular. George Lakoff has also written about the importance… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 8)

The next property of wicked problems is related to the context issue I wrote about in the last post. **8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem**. Rittel and Webber describe this one: > Problems can be described as discrepancies between the state of affairs as it is and the state as it ought to be. The process of resolving the problem starts with the search for causal explanation of the discrepancy. Removal of that cause poses another problem of which the original problem is a “symptom.” In turn, it can be considered the symptom of still another, “higher level” problem. Thus “crime in… Read More

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Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 7) and More on Complexity

At the same time I have been feeding back the wisdom in Rittel and Webber’s thinking, I have continued to read and think about complexity broadly. The more I read, the more I believe that it is critical that we begin to appreciate the omnipresence of complexity and quickly learn how to deal with it. We have relegated the idea and its ramifications to a curio shop, relying only on “the sciences” to provide us with the knowledge needed to run our individual and collective lives. Real systems thinking must incorporate complexity as the basic way of framing every non-trivial problem. An article entitled, “Restricted Complexity, General Complexity,” by the… Read More

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