Wicked Problems

Highly complex problems which cannot be solved in a straightforward way, and may not be soluble at all. We need to be aware of their existence because the problems we are now facing are wicked. If we cannot see a solution, that does not necessarily mean that we have not understood the problem; it may mean that there isn’t one.

The main features of a wicked problem are:

Vagueness: they lack clear definition because they spill over into many different issues and systems.

Hard to grasp: they can be recognised from one or two perspectives, but are too complex to understand in the round.

Populated: they affect many people: solutions are likely to be social rather than technical.

No right answer: the best that can be done is to pick the least bad response.

Changeable: the problem, and attitudes both to it and to solutions, are constantly changing.

No definition: the problem may be hard even to identify in a form that allows it to be shared.

No solution?: there is no objective clear definition of the problem, so no definitive solution.

No clean ending: the problem-solving ends when money and time run out.W31


But do not believe that a problem is wicked because someone tells you so. Look again.


Related entries:

Fortitude, Exhilaration, Climate Change, Growth, Squalid, Systems Thinking, Success.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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