Situations containing complex systems – “wicked problem”, Horst Rittel in 1970s. – Easy problems have been solved, only difficult ones left as they cannot be defined let alone resolved.
Ten significant characteristics (Webber and Rittel, 1973):
- No definitive formulation e.g. problem of poverty in Texas is very similar but subtly different from poverty in Nairobi – no practical characteristics describe poverty.
- Traditional design problems have articulated & defined boundaries, wicked problems do not making it hard or impossible to measure/claim success.
- Solutions to wicked problems either good or bad, not right or wrong. No ideal state to arrive at – improve situation, not solve it.
- No standard approach to wicked problems, each has to be tackled on its own merit.
- More than one explanation, appropriateness of each depending on perspective of designer.
- Wicked problem is symptom of another problem, e.g. interconnected quality of socio-economic political systems – change in education causes new behaviour in nutrition.
- No mitigation strategy for wicked problem has definitive scientific test as human invented – science tries to understand nature.
- Solution offered to wicked problem has only very limited applicability as any significant change will minimise ability for trial & error.
- Every wicked problem is unique.
- Designers must be responsible for their actions.
List extracted from https://www.wickedproblems.com /1_wicked_problems.php
Note: Not all hard-to-solve problems are wicked problems, only those with indeterminable scope and scale such as poverty.
Rittel, Horst. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Sciences, 1973: 155-169.