Wicked problem

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"Wicked problem" is a phrase used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.

C. West Churchman introduced the concept of wicked problems in a "Guest Editorial" of Management Science (Vol. 14, No. 4, December 1967) by referring to "a recent seminar" by Professor Horst Rittel, and discussing the moral responsibility of Operations Research "to inform the manager in what respect our 'solutions' have failed to tame his wicked problems". Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber formally described the concept of wicked problems in a 1973 treatise, contrasting "wicked" problems with relatively "tame," soluble problems in mathematics, chess, or puzzle solving.[1]


[edit] Problem examples

Classic examples of wicked problems include economic, environmental, and political issues. A problem whose solution requires large groups of individuals to change their mindsets and behaviors is likely to be a wicked problem.

Specific examples of wicked problems include global climate change, healthcare in the United States and elsewhere, the AIDS epidemic, pandemic influenza, international drug trafficking, homeland security, and nuclear energy and waste. In the United States, wicked problems at the national, state and local levels include drugs, crime, mental health, education, poverty, urban decay and issues related to the foregoing list.

[edit] Formal definitions

[edit] Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber

Rittel and Webber's (1973) formulation of wicked problems[2] specifies ten characteristics, perhaps best considered in the context of social policy planning. According to Ritchey (2007)[3], the ten characteristics are:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  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.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  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.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

[edit] Jeff Conklin

According to Conklin, the four defining characteristics of wicked problems are:

  1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution.
  2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.
  3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time.
  4. The problem is never solved.

[edit] Related concepts

[edit] Messes and social messes

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:

  1. No unique “correct” view of the problem;
  2. Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
  3. Most problems are connected to other problems;
  4. Data are often uncertain or missing;
  5. Multiple value conflicts;
  6. Ideological and cultural constraints;
  7. Political constraints;
  8. Economic constraints;
  9. Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
  10. Numerous possible intervention points;
  11. Consequences difficult to imagine;
  12. Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
  13. Great resistance to change; and,
  14. Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

[edit] Wicked problems in software development

In the last decade, other computer scientists [4][5] have pointed out that software development shares many properties with other design practices (particularly that people-, process-, and technology-problems have to be considered equally), and have incorporated Rittel's concepts into their software design methodologies. 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^  Rittel, Horst, and Melvin Webber; "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," pp. 155-169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam, 1973. [Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135-144.], http://www.uctc.net/mwebber/Rittel+Webber+Dilemmas+General_Theory_of_Planning.pdf
  2. ^  Rittel, Horst; "Second Generation Design Methods," Interview in Design Methods Group, 5th Anniversary Report, DMG Occasional Paper 1, 1972, pp. 5-10. Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 317-327.
  3. ^  Conklin, Jeff; "Dialog Mapping: An Approach for Wicked Problems," CogNexus Institute, 2003.
  4. ^  DeGrace, Peter, and L. Hulet Stahl; "Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catalog of Modern Engineering Paradigms," Prentice Hall PTR; 1st edition, 12 February 1998, ISBN 0-13-590126-X.
  5. ^  Solvberg, Arne, and David Kung; "An Introduction to Information Systems Engineering," Springer-Verlag, 1993.
  6. ^  Ritchey, Tom; "Wicked Problems: Structuring Social Messes with Morphological Analysis," Swedish Morphological Society, last revised 7 November 2007.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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