Horst Rittel, one of the first to formalize a theory of wicked problems, cites ten characteristics of these complicated social issuesRittel, Horst. “Dilemmas in a. Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel taught design and architecture for over. 30 years, yet he never designed a building or otherwise practiced as an architect. (We might. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Authors; Authors and affiliations. Horst W. J. Rittel; Melvin M. Webber. Horst W. J. Rittel. 1. Melvin M. Webber. 1. 1.

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A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The use of the term “wicked” here has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. The phrase was originally used in social planning.

Its modern sense was introduced in by C. West Churchman in a guest editorial Churchman wrote in the journal Management Science[3] responding to a previous use of the term by Horst Rittel.

Churchman discussed the moral responsibility of operations research “to inform the manager in what respect our ‘solutions’ have failed to tame his wicked problems”. Rittel and Melvin M.

Webber formally described the concept of wicked problems in a treatisecontrasting “wicked” problems with relatively “tame”, soluble problems in mathematicschessor puzzle solving. Rittel and Webber’s formulation of wicked problems in social policy planning specified ten characteristics: Conklin later generalized the concept of problem wickedness to areas other than planning and policy; Conklin’s defining characteristics are: Classic examples of wicked problems include economicenvironmentaland political issues.

A problem whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior is likely to be a wicked problem. Therefore, many standard examples of wicked problems come from the areas of public planning and policy. These include global climate change[7] natural hazardshealthcarethe AIDS epidemic, pandemic influenzainternational drug traffickingnuclear weaponsnuclear energywaste and social injustice.

In recent years, problems in many areas have been identified as exhibiting elements of wickedness; examples range from aspects of design decision making and knowledge management [8] to business strategy.

Rittel and Webber coined the term in the context of problems of social policy, an arena in which a purely scientific-engineering approach cannot be applied because of the lack of a clear problem definition and differing perspectives of stakeholders. The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail because of the nature of these problems Policy problems cannot be definitively described.

Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the indisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to these problems Even worse, there are no solutions in the sense of definitive answers.


Thus wicked problems are also characterised by the following: Although Rittel and Webber framed the concept in terms of social policy and planning, wicked problems occur in any domain involving hlrst with differing perspectives. A recurring theme in research and industry literature is the connection between wicked problems and design. Wicked problems cannot be tackled by the traditional approach in which problems are defined, analysed and solved in sequential steps.

The main reason for this is that there is no clear problem definition of wicked problems. In a paper published inNancy Roberts identified the following strategies ritgel cope with wicked problems: In his paper, [17] Rittel hints at a collaborative approach; one rttel attempts “to make those people who are being affected into participants of the planning process.

They are not merely asked but actively involved in the planning process”. A disadvantage of hotst approach is that achieving a shared understanding and commitment to solving a wicked problem is a time-consuming process. Another ohrst is that, in some matters, at least one group of people may hold an absolute belief that necessarily contradicts other absolute beliefs held by other groups.

Collaboration then becomes impossible until one set of beliefs is relativized or abandoned entirely.

Wicked Problems

Research over the last two decades has shown the value of computer-assisted argumentation techniques in improving the effectiveness of cross-stakeholder communication. In “Wholesome Design for Wicked Problems”, Robert Knapp stated that there are ways forward ritttel dealing with wicked problems:. The first is to shift the goal of action on significant problems from “solution” to “intervention. Examining networks designed to tackle wicked problems in health care, such as caring for older people or reducing sexually transmitted infectionsFerlie and colleagues rlttel that managed networks may be the “least bad” way of “making wicked problems governable”.

A range of approaches called problem structuring methods PSMs have been developed in operations research since the s to address problems involving complexity, uncertainty and horwt.

PSMs are usually used by a group of people in collaboration rather than by a solitary individual to create a consensus about, or at least to facilitate negotiations about, what needs to change.

Some widely dittel PSMs include soft systems methodologythe strategic choice approach, and strategic options development and analysis SODA.

Christopher Alexander, Horst Rittel, C. West Churchman – Coevolving Innovations

Ackoff wrote about complex problems hordt messes: I choose to call rjttel 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 ruttel 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: Schumacher distinguishes between divergent and convergent problems in his book A Guide for the Perplexed. Convergent problems are those for which attempted solutions gradually converge on one solution or answer. Divergent problems are those for which different answers appear to increasingly contradict each other all the more they are elaborated, requiring a different approach involving faculties of a higher order like love and empathy.


In DeGrace and Stahl rittek the concept of wicked problems to software development. The design and integration of complex software-defined services that use the Web web ritttel can be construed as an evolution from previous models of software design, and therefore becomes a wicked problem also.

Kelly Levin, Benjamin Cashore, Graeme Auld and Steven Bernstein introduced the distinction between “wicked problems” and “super wicked problems” in a conference paper, which was horstt by a journal article in Policy Sciences. In their discussion of global climate changethey define super wicked problems as having the following additional characteristics: While the items that define a wicked problem relate to the problem itself, the items that define a super wicked problem relate to the agent trying to solve hkrst.

Global warming is a super wicked problem, and the need to intervene to tend to our longer term interests has also been taken up by others, including Richard Lazarus. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Big Hairy Audacious Goal Category: A Public Policy Perspective”. Australian Public Service Commission. Retrieved 9 November Archived from the original PDF on 30 September Issues as Elements of Information Systems.

Theorizing the Collapse of a Mental Health Setting”. Contradiction, contest, and the production of intractable conflict”. Accounting, Organizations and Society. Retrieved 8 November In Gass, Saul I. Encyclopedia of operations research and management science 3rd ed.

Restraining the Present to Liberate the Future”. An Approach for Wicked Problems.

Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems. Unpacking Paradigms, Bridging Universes Part 1 of 2 “. NextDesign Leadership Institute Journal.

Unpacking Paradigms, Bridging Universes Part 2 of 2 “. Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems 1st ed. Courtney, James F Hort, Peter; Stahl, L. Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catalog of Modern Engineering Paradigms.

Wicked problem – Wikipedia

Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Lazarus, Richard James Path dependency, progressive incrementalism, and the “Super Wicked” problem of global climate change” PDF.

Earth and Environmental Science. Ritchey, Tom []. Modelling Social Messes with Morphological Analysis”. Retrieved 7 October Systems Analysis of the ‘First and Second Generations”. International Public Management Review. International Public Management Network. An Introduction to Information Systems Engineering. International Journal of Design. Harris and Jacqueline Y. Culmsee, Paul, and Kailash Awati.

The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: Today’s business problems can be impossible to define, let alone solveFall Ritchey, Tom Decision support modelling with morphological analysis. Retrieved from ” https: Policy Cognition Problem solving introductions.

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