There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem
March 7, 2016 6:01 AM   Subscribe

"The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are 'wicked' problems..."[pdf]

"If you work in an organisation that deals with social, commercial or financial planning - or any type of public policy planning - then you've got wicked problems. You may not call them by this name, but you know what they are. They are those complex, ever changing societal and organisational planning problems that you haven't been able to treat with much success, because they won't keep still. They're messy, devious, and they fight back when you try to deal with them. This paper describes the notion of wicked problems..."

"Peter DeGrace and Leslie Hulet Stahl pointed out that many of the systems problems facing software developers have all the characteristics of wicked problems. Judge for yourself."
  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 good or bad.
  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 social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
posted by klarck (5 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting. These might not be exactly the same, but there is a 'liberating structure' (i.e. discussion structures designed to be conducive to productive discussion) about 'wicked problems.' The goal of these is to try and articulate #1 in some form . . . I think the wicked problem there is different than the wicked problem discussed by the post here, but some parts are similar (perhaps these wicked problems are a subset of the kind discussed in liberating structures).

It is often paired with the 'liberating structure' called "15% Solutions," the idea being that getting the beginning of a solution is easier to do and crowdsource than a perfect-fit solution.
posted by auggy at 6:22 AM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Was very very surprised to see that the authors were from California instead of Boston.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:51 AM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

the first step to solve a wicked problem is to define a Big Harry Audacious Goal (or BHAG) and then create a diverse team of experts to spend heads-down time (on top of their other responsibilities of course) to find a solution that works across silos and towards corporate values.

Some examples of great BHAGs:
* How might we become the leaders in thought and action around corporate diversity?
* How might we integrate across teams to produce valuable contributions?
* How might we inculcate a cultural transformation that supports the pillars of innovation and community?
posted by rebent at 8:55 AM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Wicked" here is an adjective; if these were Bostonian authors, they'd be more likely to use it as an adverb, so this would instead be a "wicked hahd problem"

In Northern California, this would be called a "hella hard problem."
posted by zachlipton at 12:37 PM on March 7, 2016

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