September 17, 2010


Bevir, Mark, Democratic Governance (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010).

"Like so many ideas informing the second wave of reforms, the concept of a 'wicked problem' arose as part of an amorphous midrange social science that linked institutionalism, organizational theory, and functionalism, Reformist governments then picked up and adopted these amorphous theories to counter the ideas and policies of rational choice and neoliberalism. Wicked problems are generally defined in terms such as these: a problem of more or less unique nature; the lack of any definitive formulation of such a problem; the existence of multiple explanations for it; the absence of a test to decide the value of any response to it; all responses to it being better or worse rather than true or false; and each response to it has important consequences such that there is no real chance to learn by trial and error. Typically these features strongly imply that wicked problems are interrelated. For example, a particular wicked problem might be explained in terms of its relationship to others, or any response to it might impact others. Classic example of wicked problems include pressing issues of governance such as security, environment, and urban blight. Yet other contemporary policy issues--housing, economic development, and welfare--also appear too complex to be divided into neat parts that might then be handed over to distinct bureaucratic units."
Id. at 77.

Wicked problems. The Australian Public Service makes explicit use of the term 'wicked problem.' . . . In its official paper Tackling Wicked Problems, the Australian Public Service specifies that wicked problems are not only peculiarly resistant to resolution but also a challenge to bureaucratic ways of working and solving problems. Wicked problems, including climate change, obesity, and indigenous disadvantage, require 'thinking that is capable of grasping the big picture' and 'more collaborative and innovative approaches'; they allegedly require actors to operate 'across organisational boundaries' in a whole of government approach." Id. at 219-210.

It should be obviously clear that those incapable of out-of-the-box thinking, or who take comfort in top-down decision making, are probably incapable of participating in the tackling of wicked problems. 'Group Think' will not resolve wicked problems! Have you trained your mind such that you will be prepared to engage in wicked problem solving? Or, at the very least, recognize the value of wicked problem solving? Will you even know a wicked problem when it comes across your desk?