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Wicked Problems (Score: 1)
by vlad on Sunday, December 11, 2005 @ 20:59:54 GMT
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.zpenergy.com
My good friend Dr. Peter Gluck told me recently we're both dealing with "wicked problems" and I should read Dave Pollard's blog on this. Here is an extract (stronly recommend his site "How to save the world" to you all):

"Last week in my article [blogs.salon.com] on Design Thinking I mentioned that such thinking is focused on "wicked problems", which I defined as "the intractable, complex-system challenges that require parallel iterations of both the 'problem' and the 'solution', until both become clearer at the same time (and sometimes once you find the 'solution' you realize your concept of the 'problem' was wrong)".

A couple of readers picked up on the term and wanted to know if I had coined it, and more about such problems. The term was coined by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in 1973 to describe problems in public policy and planning that defy solution by analytical methods. Wicked problems, they said, have these ten characteristics:
  1. Each attempt at creating a solution changes the understanding of the problem.
  2. Since you cannot define the problem, it is difficult to tell when it is resolved.
  3. There are no unambiguous criteria for deciding if the problem is resolved.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences, some of which are unforeseeable or adverse.
  6. Wicked problems do not have a well-described set of potential solutions (it's a matter of individual judgement).
  7. Since every wicked problem is essentially unique, there are no ‘classes’ of solutions that can be applied.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem (there is no constant or 'root' problem underlying others in the set).
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be perceived in numerous, changing ways.
  10. There is an unreasonable expectation that the team working on the problem will find a satisfactory solution, preferably the first time.
The Cognexus Institute provides [www.cognexus.org] these examples of Wicked Problems meeting these criteria:
  • Fighting terrorism
  • Where to route a new highway
  • A national healthcare system for the U.S.
  • Sprawl and sustainable development
  • What to do when oil resources run out
  • The U.S. Social Security system
  • World hunger
  • Global warming
  • Environmental planning
  • Military base closure
  • Business design challenges
  • Complex software development (e.g. expertise finders)
My list of the world's ten most intractable problems all meet these criteria as well.

The people I have spoken with who deal routinely with such problems have stopped using the terminology that was traditionally applied to complicated but 'tame' problems: solution, analysis, cause. They even avoid using the term 'problem' because its connotation is something that has a solution. But the terms that are appropriate instead are awkward, because they hit home the impotence of those trying to tackle them: instead of solutions and problems they talk of "approaches to deal with or cope with" a "situation". And instead of analysis and cause they use complex-system terminology like "pattern recognition" and "correlation". It's a humbling vernacular, and it's not surprising so many have chosen to leave such 'problems' for others to 'solve', or to use fruitless, complicated-system tame-problem 'solutions' that appear to work for awhile, and blame their later failure on other factors.

So how should we "deal with" complex situations, when the current state is clearly unsatisfactory and suboptimal? ....

Link: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2005/10/12.html [blogs.salon.com]

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