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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to extend and elaborate the notion of successful organizational change to incorporate the concept of large system change (LSC), by developing a framework that brings together complexity and wicked problems theories to understand how individual organizations and change agents can better influence LSC. Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual paper integrates wicked problems and complexity theories to understand and cope with large system initiatives from the perspective of change agents in organizations, and uses the case of the electricity system as an illustrative example for these concepts. Findings – The paper provides implications for LSC and action steps for change agents in organizations, arguing that by understanding change initiatives through the lenses of complexity and wicked problems, change agents are likely to be more effective. Research limitations/implications – The integration of complexity science and wicked problems underpins the development of a comprehensive framework for creating effective LSC solutions, however, these ideas still need to be grounded in practice and empirical research. Practical implications – Using these ideas, change agents in organizations can enhance their influence and use the power of system dynamics to support positive action for sustainable change. This paper provides a foundation to help think through the cross-sectoral, inter-organizational, and change dynamics involved in LSC efforts needed to bring about a more sustainable, secure, and equitable world for all. Social implications – The world greatly needs system change; however, there is limited theory on effective LSC. This paper hopes to contribute to understanding the ways in which the difficulties of such change can be harnessed to move in positive directions with minimal disruption and greatest effectiveness. Originality/value – Theories of change management that position the organization in the context of a broader system and define its role in creating change do not yet articulate the nature of the problems at hand in relation to the large systems where they are embedded. This paper builds upon wicked problems and complexity theories to shed light on the role of change agents and organizations in effective transformational change.
Journal of Organizational Change Management
The complexity of wicked problems in large scale change
Sandra Waddock Greta M. Meszoely Steve Waddell Domenico Dentoni
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Sandra Waddock Greta M. Meszoely Steve Waddell Domenico Dentoni , (2015),"The complexity of
wicked problems in large scale change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 28 Iss
6 pp. 993 - 1012
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The complexity of wicked
problems in large scale change
Sandra Waddock
Carroll School of Management, Boston College, Chestnut Hill,
Massachusetts, USA
Greta M. Meszoely
Center for Business Complexity and Global Leadership, Sawyer School of
Management, Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Steve Waddell
Networking Action, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and
Domenico Dentoni
Department of Social Sciences,
Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to extend and elaborate the notion of successful organizational
change to incorporate the concept of large system change (LSC), by developing a framework that
brings together complexity and wicked problems theories to understand how individual organizations
and change agents can better influence LSC.
Design/methodology/approach This conceptual paper integrates wicked problems and
complexity theories to understand and cope with large system initiatives from the perspective of
change agents in organizations, and uses the case of the electricity system as an illustrative example
for these concepts.
Findings The paper provides implications for LSC and action steps for change agents in
organizations, arguing that by understanding change initiatives through the lenses of complexity and
wicked problems, change agents are likely to be more effective.
Research limitations/implications The integration of complexity science and wicked problems
underpins the development of a comprehensive framework for creating effective LSC solutions,
however, these ideas still need to be grounded in practice and empirical research.
Practical implications Using these ideas, change agents inorganizations can enhance their influence
and use the power of system dynamics to support positive action for sustainable change. This paper
provides a foundation to help think through the cross-sectoral, inter-organizational, and change dynamics
involved in LSC efforts needed to bring about a more sustainable, secure, and equitable world for all.
Social implications The world greatly needs system change; however, there is limited theory on
effective LSC. This paper hopes to contribute to understanding the ways in which the difficulties of
such change can be harnessed to move in positive directions with minimal disruption and greatest
Originality/value Theories of change management that position the organization in the context of a
broader system and define its role in creating change do not yet articulate the nature of the problems
at hand in relation to the large systems where they are embedded. This paper builds upon wicked
problems and complexity theories to shed light on the role of change agents and organizations in
effective transformational change.
Keywords Complexity, Wicked problems, Change agents, Adaptive systems, Large-scale change,
System change
Paper type Conceptual paper Journal of Organizational Change
Vol. 28 No. 6, 2015
pp. 993-1012
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JOCM-08-2014-0146
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The research on the electricity system referenced in this paper is supported financially by the
ENEL Foundations project: Towards a New Sustainable Business Model for Energy Companies.
of wicked
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The ability to adapt and change effectively relative to market conditions is central to
management theory. Much organizational change management was inspired by
dramatic systemic shifts that threatened the markets on which organizations
depended, beginning with the great depression. There has been a significant
evolution of change management from augmenting processes in hierarchical
organizations to react to change, to decentralizing organizations with a focus on
flexibility to support agility and responsiveness, as well as to ways in which
organizations can cope with ecological and societal exigencies now facing the planet.
We are, however, only beginning to appreciate change management in the context
of broader systemic changes. In an era of unprecedented change where our human
and technological systems have become increasingly interconnected and transformed
at an unparalleled rate, and where human vulnerabilities to ecological and planetary
dynamics are becoming more obvious, the notion of successful organizational change
must be reassessed to incorporate the need for significant and simultaneous change
in multiple institutions and organizations in the direction of greater sustainability
and social justice.
Flexibility and agility have become a corner stone of management theory in the
twenty-first century in order to respond effectively to opportunity while mitigating
risk relative to changing market conditions. This approach inherently frames
organizations in a set of larger industrial, competitive, and increasingly social and
ecological contexts. Realizing a sustainable, flourishing future for humanity
and organizations of tomorrow requires worldwide change in social, political, and
economic systems (e.g. Daly et al., 1989; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), 2007; Turner, 2008; McKibben, 2011; Randers, 2012; Worldwatch, 2013).
Organizations today are not contained by their institutional or even industrial
boundaries, but rather are an integral part of an increasingly interconnected dynamic
system of actors and institutions that together support positive or negative change in
the short and long term. Organizations must engage in active change initiatives that
support a flourishing future at both an organizational and society level for their
own self-interested success while positively influencing a healthy social, political, and
natural environment within which it not only exists but can flourish. Most
importantly, building a more promising future for societies and organizations
requires challenging contemporary understanding of organizations as agents of
change in the context of broad, complex, evolving systems.
To support this development, this paper: first, elaborates the framework of
organizational change to extend the traditional boundaries of organizational change to
include large system change (LSC) requiring multi-sector interventions; integrates,
synthesizes, and describes different dimensions of complex adaptive systems (CAS)
and wicked problems from various strands of literature as they apply to LSC; and
provides a conceptual understanding of the integration of CAS, wicked problems, and
systems change. Ultimately, we provide change agents wherever they might be with
actionable recommendations to assess their own understanding of the systems that
require change and how these are linked to wicked problems and CAS so they
can influence more positive, sustainable, LSC. Change agents, from the point of view of
CAS, are actors who can be found anywhere within the large system undergoing
change, who are attempting to move an organization or institution in a different
direction than it is currently moving, whether through policy, personnel, resource,
technological, financial, or other means.
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A LSC perspective
In this paper we are interested in movement of societal institutions and organizations
toward sustainability as the core of what we mean by LSC. As we use the term, LSC
has two dimensions. One is that it is largein the commonly understood sense:
it involves large geographies (e.g. national, regional, and global), multiple institutions,
and large numbers of people and resources. The other dimension involves the
transformation or fundamental reframing of human systems. LSC involves multiple
interrelated and connected organizations, institutions, norms, and behaviors at
individual, organizational, societal, and global levels. We use the term systemto
mean interacting and connected or interdependent entities that comprise a complex
network producing an outcome (Bertalanffy, 1968). Koestler (1968) noted that such
entities are organized as holons (wholes consisting of other wholes as their parts).
Currently the systemtakenasawholeisproducingunsustainableoutcomesand
many observers suggest the need for transformation. Because the system, as we will
explore below, is a CAS fraught with wicked problems, however, effecting change in a
desired direction is difficult at best. Our framework asks how complexity and wicked
problems theories can enhance understanding of how to bring about change in the
midst of such complexity.
LSC is distinguished from incremental and reform change as described in Table I.
Incremental change asks How can we do more of what we have been doing?and reform
asks What shall we create?LSC asks the more fundamental question, What is our core
purpose and how do we make sense of the situation?Incremental change and reform can
take place within the current logics (economic-political-social) that are producing
unsustainable outcomes. LSC as we have defined it involves transformation, that is,
a shifting of the very foundations of some institutions and their interrelationships.
A common pathway to transformation arises from experiments and actions of
Type of
change Incremental Reform Transformation
How can we do more of the
Are we doing things right?
What rules shall we create?
Who should do what?
What are the rewards?
How do I make sense of
What is the purpose?
How do we know what is
Purpose To improve performance To understand and change
the system and its parts
To innovate and create
previously unimagined
Power and
Confirms existing rules.
Preserves the established
power structure and
relationships among actors
in the system
Opens rules to revision.
Suspends established
power relationships;
promotes authentic
interactions; creates a space
for genuine reform of the
Opens issue to creation of
new ways of thinking and
action. Promotes
transformation of
relationships with whole-
system awareness and
identity; promotes
examining deep structures
that sustain the system
Mediation Negotiations Visioning
Source: Adapted from Waddell (2011)
Table I.
Types of change
of wicked
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incremental change that integrates the new understanding of reality (e.g. the importance
of sustainability) and core purpose (in this case, sustainability). Support for these to
become dominant new institutional framings requires fundamental reform of existing
institutions and their core purposes, probably over time. LSC engages the dynamics and
behavioral mechanisms of the complex network as a whole to define relevant issues,
drive initiatives, and support continuous innovation for transformational change by
leveraging the system and its internal dynamics in balance with its environment.
One distinctive quality of transformation is that it involves redefinition of power and
power structures within the transforming system. Incremental change operates within
the current logic, reinforcing existing rules and relationships. For example,
incrementalism is associated with companies rolling-outnew products, services,
or delivery channels. Reform allows for the revision of rules, such as with regulatory
reform, but does so within current power structures, as occurred after the banking crisis
when there was no real change in power structures, though some rules changed.
In contrast, LSC aims for new ways of thinking, acting, and relating with different
assumptions such as the imperative for sustainability. LSCs transformational challenge
involves changing the logic of organizations, their values, and decision-making
processes. Therefore, organization change agents are part of LSC simply as a result of the
operating and enabling environments of their organizations. The question is whether
they want to be reactive or pro-active in navigating the scale of change.
Wicked problems, complex systems, and institutions
Toward the ends described above, we bring two key theoretical lenses to the
understanding of LSC: complexity science (e.g. Kauffman, 1995; Lissack and Roos, 1999;
Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989; Lissack and Letiche, 2002; Capra, 2006; Schneider and
Somers, 2006; Suteanu, 2005; Walby, 2007) with its related emphasis on chaos theory
(Gleick, 1988; Prigogine and Stengers, 1984); and the concept of wicked problems
(Batie, 2008; Conklin 2005; Dentoni and Bitzer, 2013; Levin et al., 2012; Rittel and
Webber, 1973). To these lenses we add the implications for institutions, understood
as organizations operating within a given CAS, or problem domain of interest. There is
extensive literature on complexity and wicked problems, but limited efforts to link the
sets of ideas in thinking about their implications for systems.
CAS of interest here are social systems that are diverse, nonlinear, consisting of
multiple interactive, interdependent, and interconnected sub-elements. They are adaptive
and self-organizing, tending toward ever-greater complexity operating at the edge of
chaos,and therefore in a constant state of innovation and dynamic equilibrium
(Kauffman, 1995; Lissack and Roos, 1999; Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989; Lissack and
Letiche, 2002; Capra, 2006; Schneider and Somers, 2006; Suteanu, 2005; Walby, 2007).
Pushed too far, they can cross-over that edge of chaos into a major state change or
even what Diamond called collapse (e.g. Prigogine and Stengers, 1984; Kauffman, 1995;
Diamond, 2005). Social CAS are constituted by individuals, institutions, and other
organized entities that interactively influence each other and are simultaneously shaped
and influenced by the wicked problems or issues within the system.
Wicked problems are poorly formulated, boundary-spanning, ill-structured issues
with numerous stakeholders who bring different perspectives to the definitions and
potential resolution of the issue or problem. In wicked problems each issue can be seen as
a symptom of others, each issue is unique, no definitive solutions are possible, and there
is no stopping rulethat determines the problems end or is likely to satisfy all the
stakeholders (e.g. Rittel and Webber, 1973; Batie, 2008; Weber and Khademian, 2008;
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Dentoni et al., 2012). From a change perspective, wicked problems are defined by
dynamic, interconnected issues that influence and are influenced by complex systems in
which institutions, such as nations, oil companies, and utilities, are important
actors. Wicked problems are what Ackoff (1974) called messes and Trist (1983) labeled
Wicked problems and CAS have many overlapping and similar characteristics. Both
need to be considered holistically, are dynamically complex, with emergent, interactive,
and co-evolutionary properties, where the outcomes of changes can be seen in patterns,
and/or change in the nature of the problem(s), but they are ultimately not predictable.
When we discuss wicked problems, we are by definition interested in the issues and
problems within CAS that impact institutional changes on a local to global level, but are
influenced simultaneously by the network of institutional dynamics that exists
among organizational and related entities. Such CAS tend to exist in what Emery and
Trist (1965), in their classic paper on organizational environments called turbulent
fields, where there is a high degree of interactivity, interconnectedness, and
interdependence among the various entities that comprise the field.
Institutions, for the purpose of this paper, include organizations in different sectors,
including businesses, governments, and NGOs to accomplish various ends that are
somehow related, e.g., within a given geographic or other type of context. The term also
encompasses families, or customs, relationships, memes, or norms that help to shape and
define a community or complex system (see, e.g. Scott, 1987, 2008, for syntheses of
the institutional theory literature). Though we wish to focus predominantly on the
organizations of different types that are embedded in a relevant field or scope of interest
and interact with each other around wicked problems, we recognize that rules, memes,
and logics that constitute institutions and any given institutional infrastructure (Scott,
2008) are also relevant in change situations. Institutions thus are dynamic organizations
with their associated memes and rules that emerge and evolve relative to specific needs,
interests, actions by various change agents, and for the ultimate goal of survival.
LSC in a CAS, with its embedded institutions (organizations and various memes)
and wicked problems, can be conceived as a double helix. Like the DNA molecule, LSC
in a CAS comprises a whole consisting of two distinct yet inextricably intertwined,
co-evolving, systems: a production system of institutions (broadly defined) and a
change system. The production system represents the institutions that structure the
system, produce its outputs or outcomes, and contain and structure its institutions
and organizations. For the electricity system, which will be used as an example below,
the production system includes utilities, transmission and distribution companies,
suppliers of fuels, government regulators and investors. Each of these institutions acts
relative to its own motivations and local knowledge of the broader system and in
response to its understanding of the production system, its goals and needs. The
change system comprises all those efforts to restructure and redirect the production
system as various change agents contend with various wicked problems.
Complexity theory in the context of wicked problems
LSC is extraordinarily difficult to deal with, understand, or plan because it includes
both wicked problems and CAS which themselves have similar characteristics related
to their inherent complexity and chaotic properties.
We use as an illustrative example the case of the global change system for electricity,
as distinct from other geographic levels. Included were entities focussed on integrating
sustainability concerns (working to achieve sustainability energy for alls goals) into the
of wicked
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electricity production system, and meeting the following criteria: they are
multi-organizational initiatives (networks), since even the largest of traditional
organizations would have only modest impact on the global, including
intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank, and the UN and its agencies
which are government networks; and they have a global operation, defined as being active
on at least two continents. This work was undertaken by the GOLDEN for Sustainability
Energy Ecosystem Lab to address questions about how to enhance coherence and
convergence in large complex change systems.
Table II lays out the intersections of wicked problems and CAS as they affect LSC
processes. As the sources at the bottom of the table indicate, we have drawn
extensively from a wide range of authorsoverlapping ideas to draw out these
implications and we refer the reader to their original sources for specifics on complexity
science, chaos theory, and wicked problems. Below we explain the overlaps between
complexity and wicked problems theories, and in the section that follows we illustrate
these dynamics with change initiatives within the electricity system.
Problem definition and boundaries
Wicked problems are characterized by uniqueness, complexity, and the interactive
dynamism of issues, making each one unique and definitive problem definition
impossible, in part because each stakeholder brings different perspectives to the
problem at hand. Defining a CAS can appear reasonably clear and with some capacity
to determine the definition possible, however, boundaries are not static, and also tend to
be very permeable. So, as with wicked problems, it is difficult to determine exactly
where one begins and ends. In these contexts, organizational definitions appear quite
defined, albeit changeable, and not always completely determinate.
Both wicked problems and CAS need to be viewed holistically rather than in piecemeal
or fragmented ways because their various components are interconnected,
interdependent, and interrelated. In CAS the whole is considered to be more than
simply the sum of its parts and much the same could be said of wicked problems, since
change efforts often try to tackle only one aspect of a wicked problem, interconnections
among various elements make the problem unresolvable unless tackled holistically.
Institutions as organizations, generally, are seen to have specific institutional domains,
roles, and activities that are, at least in theory, separable from those of other
institutions, but the boundaries of these as they evolve continue to change relative to
internal and external needs and dynamics.
Wicked problems and CAS are both characterized by non-linear, co-evolving, and
emergent dynamics that are inherently unpredictable. These dynamics adapt to different
forces and pressures, and are subject to sudden state changes, including what Diamond
(2005) calls collapse, which is a well-described implication of current electricity system
emissions in the future if they are not curtailed. Both wicked problems and CAS have
numerous institutions (organizations and actors, along with the glueor set of memes
that structures them) acting both within the production and change systems that
influence developments and patterns that emerge as a result of co-evolution whereby the
systems innovate through creative destruction (Schumpeter, 1962). Though possible,
co-evolution can be more difficult in a wicked problems context because of the lack of
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definitional boundaries and dynamism. This definitional constraint is a core
investigation of transition literature with respect to electricity (Bauknecht and Cames,
2009; Praetorius et al., 2008). Still, when one actor does something to effect change that
shift influences other actors to change (or resist change) and ultimately those changes
Property Wicked problems Complex adaptive systems (CAS)
definition and
Each issue/problem conceived as symptom of
others. They are interactive, complexly
related, and dynamic. Each is unique and no
definitive definition is possible. No definitive
System definition can appear
reasonably clear, and system
definition can be determined in
physical CAS, while social systems
share no definitive boundaries.
Permeable boundaries at multiple
levels and across institutions
Holistic Need to be dealt with holistically because
piecemeal solutions do not work, because of
interconnectedness, interrelatedness, and
interdependence of elements
Need to be understood holistically,
since the whole is different from the
(sum of ) parts, and all parts are
interdependent, interconnected, and
Dynamics Non-linear, cause-effect relationships difficult
to determine. Emergence and co-evolution are
characteristic. Highly interactive and
complex. Can seem unorganized, though
fractal qualities can be present, co-evolution is
difficult because of dynamism and lack of
definitional boundaries though possible
Non-linear, cause-effect relationships
difficult to determine. Emergence,
adaptation, and co-evolution are
characteristic. Greater complexity
operating at the edge of chaos.
Spontaneously self-organizing
systems (sometimes), process of
creative destruction, emerging from
interaction, and interdependence of
stakeholders, with layers sometimes
having fractal qualities
No definitive (enumerable or well-described)
resolution possible as all stakeholders bring
different perspectives. There is no stopping
Aggregation of actions can result in
unpredictable (chaos-induced) state
changes or local impacts. No
definitive resolution or end point
unless state change occurs
and patterning
Patterns somewhat predictable, not specifics
(fractal-like quality possible), and on the whole
limits on predictability. May have elements of
chaotic systems with strange attractors
defining points of interest, intervention in
interrelated, interdependent, interactive
Path dependent, but not predictable,
with fractal-like patterns potentially
visible. Strange attractorshelp
define patterns. Intrinsic limits on
predictability because of interrelated,
interdependent, and interactive
elements supporting behaviors that
may be symptoms of others
Path dependent Small and large changes bring about different,
largely unpredictable system dynamics,
leaving traces,with no right to be wrong,
and no ultimate correct answer. Every
solution has irreversible consequences and is
a one-shot operation
Change results in unique and
irreversible solutions, depending on
starting point. Small changes can
have large effects (butterfly effect).
Collapse can be triggered if system is
pushed over the edge of chaos
Sources: Rittel and Webber (1973), Prigogine and Stengers (1984), Gleick (1989), Nicolis and Prigogine
(1989), Stacey (1991), Kauffman (1995), Stacey (1995), Anderson (1999), Lissack and Roos (1999),
McKelvey (1999), Manson (2001), Lissack and Letiche (2002), Capra (2005), Suteanu (2005), Conklin
(2005), Schneider and Somers (2006), Walby (2007), Batie (2008), Weber Khademian (2008), Urry (2005),
and Dentoni and Bitzer (2013)
Table II.
Properties of wicked
problems, complex
systems, and
of wicked
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come back around to influence the original actor in a co-evolutionary pattern of
interaction and engagement. Within the CAS, organizations as institutions can be
highly dynamic, interactive, and willing to engage in co-evolutionary change or rigid,
bureaucratized, relatively stable, and resistant to change (at least on the surface). For
any given CAS or wicked problem, there can be many organizations taking different
actions that influence the dynamics in interactive and complex ways that generate
unpredictable outcomes.
Resolution and outcomes
One of the defining characteristics of wicked problems and CAS is that no definitive
solution is possible because different stakeholder bring different perspectives to the
problem. Further, because of both the complexity of wicked problems and their
dynamism, there is no stopping rulethat determines when the problem has been
resolved to satisfy the varied stakeholders. In CAS, aggregation of different actions can
sometimes result in unpredictable state changes or local impacts, because the system is
characterized by chaos in the mathematical use of that term.
Predictability and patterning
Wicked problems and CAS both have characteristics of chaotic systems with
predictability of outcomes of actions not possible, but with patterns of action that
emerge to create system dynamics. Oil prices go up and down, policy waxes and wanes,
causing the move to sustainable fuels to cycle but there is an inexorable move to
more sustainable fuels. Both can also experience what are called strange attractors in
physics, i.e., elements that create defining points of interest, or leverage points
for change. Such a strange attractor in a CAS or wicked problems context could be
a particular leader, organization, or institution (including a vision, meme, or set of ideas)
that attracts others to it. For example, resources, ideas, memes, or other ways of
engaging across organizational or sector boundaries can draw attention and create an
impetus for change.
Multiple stakeholders interacting
Different stakeholders in system change may not (fully) agree on what is proposed or
acted upon, how change should be approached, or even what the appropriate goals
for change might be. At the same time, as Ackoff (1974) noted, bringing together the
relevant stakeholders to a given problem, in many cases including stakeholders from
multiple sectors, is crucial to any potential for what we can call a good enough solution
(Conklin, 2005; Waddock, 2013) where right answers or scientific certainty are unlikely
(Batie, 2008; Peterson, 1989).
Path dependence
Path dependence is apparent in both CAS and wicked problems. In wicked problems,
small and large changes, though unpredictable in their specific outcomes, shift the
systemsdynamics, leaving traces,with no right to be wrong,and no ultimately
correct answer. Every solution has irreversible consequences and therefore, there is
no way to return to the original state. Much the same is true of CAS, where small initial
actions can have potentially large impacts, a process known as the butterfly effect.
Collapse can be triggered by sudden state changes when what is called the edge of
chaos is reached.
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An illustrative example: the electricity system
In the electricity system introduced briefly above, change agents in organizations are
struggling to find coherence in their joint efforts as they work to address local concerns
given the complexity of the systems and the wickednature of the problems at hand.
By reflecting conceptually on the nature of CAS and wicked problems, we can begin to
see how understanding the system as both wicked and complex can help provide
actionable suggestions for change agents.
Problem definition and boundaries
In the electricity system, the wicked problems involve determining what sources of energy
are appropriate in a context of climate change and which elements of the existing system
need to change so that the climate change and sustainability crises are not made worse.
The CAS consists of the panoply of different elements that constitute electricity production
today and that are subject to current demands and issues of resiliency along with change
inthefutureasneweffortstoswitchtorenewable or non-fossil-fueled-based sources of
energy are engaged. It would appear that it is relatively easy to define the electricity
system. However, the system is comprised of companies, agencies, fuel and equipment
suppliers, customers, and numerous others so that where the system begins and ends is not
so readily determined; some actors have multiple roles in the context of unique social,
political, technological, and natural dynamics at various levels of the system. Different
sources of energy to produce electricity create permeable and shifting barriers and have
differential impacts on the natural environment, depending on any number of factors.
Holistic: interrelated problems, systems, and institutions
Electricity as a system needs to be viewed holistically because its different elements are
connected to each other as well as to economic development, the environment, and
health, among other issues. The electricity system, consisting of electricity generation-
transmission-distribution-consumption, also illustrates the distinction between LSC
and other types of change. Incremental change involves activities to extend or curtail
this current system with current business models, policies, and technology such as
providing greater amounts of electricity to current users or adding previously
unserviced users through new or expanded distribution channels.
Reform occurred when the electricity system, which was usually unitary, was broken
up through public policy change into the constituent parts in most of the USA with
different businesses for generation, transmission, and distribution. This segmented parts
of the traditional business model, regulatory approach, and technology infrastructure.
In contrast, the electricity system is now tackling transformation or LSC with integration
of sustainability into its logic. Transformation requires exploration and development of
still unknown business models that involve fundamentally different technologies that are
changing the power and relationships between the partsof the system in basic ways.
A holistic approach is needed, for example, with the arising of prosumerswhere
consumers can be net energy producers through solar, wind, and other technologies
(Insights, 2014), because all elements of the system will be affected in unknown ways by
such shifts.
The dynamics of CAS are clear within the electricity system, which has many
interacting parts that become less predictable than when traditional technology was
used, especially in the context of climate change. Transformation is about developing
of wicked
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resilience and its adaptive ability, in the face of traditionally inflexible, long-term
investments in electrical power plants, which are now being supplemented by the
distributed and less predictable prosumer model noted above. The threat of collapse is
treated by actors within the system as a real possibility, on the one hand from climate
change and on the other from the potential for system collapse if sustainability is
pushed too far, too fast. For example, at 40 percent renewable energy on its grid,
Denmark is far in advance of any other country for renewables. While pushing for
continued progress, Denmark is going where no country has gone before. One big
worry is that the result of the transformation will be brownouts (i.e. temporary
reductions or restrictions on electricity availability) (Gillis, 2014). So a key question is:
how can the electricity system be changed from a complex, poorly adaptive system to a
highly adaptive complex system in the face of all the unknowns?
Resolution and outcomes
The problems embedded in complex electricity systems are wicked in nature. Climate
change issues associated with the electricity system, for example, are associated with
increasingly severe implications that can produce collapse, rather than well-defined
ones. Indeed, climate change has been called a super wickedproblem (Levin et al.,
2012), because of the many interacting and interconnected elements that are involved.
There is continual debate about current effort for change, vs future benefit. The
economic and climate impacts of the electricity system, particularly changing the
electricity system from its current coal-basis to renewable energy sources, demands
both holistic consideration and understanding of the dynamic interactions that result
from changing any given element of the system, but it will very likely never be quite
clear when the system itself has been fully transformed and it is likely that no outcomes
will satisfy all the key stakeholders, some of which want to maintain centralized
structures, for example, while others will prefer decentralized, distributed power
sources, and distribution.
Predictability and patterning
In electricity, the need for new patterns expresses itself as the need to develop a new
business models and sources of energy for utilities, which involves new actors and new
roles, while, coal producers and other traditional energy suppliers resist change,
making it difficult to predict what is likely to happen. Embedded in the electricity
system, and dealing with the described wicked problems, a number of institutions
undertake change initiatives both in isolation and in joint initiatives. These include
companies, governmental energy agencies, and civic organizations concerned about
the natural environment and energy production. In the electricity arena, there are
thousands of initiatives working on various aspects and from various perspectives,
as noted above, some of which are new and dynamic, offering nontraditional sources of
energy production or newer technologies, while other stalwarts are embedded in the
existing system and highly resistant to any significant changes.
Multiple stakeholders interacting
In electricity, one big lesson is that there is need for a big shift from the one big utility-
generator fits all model, to one that is highly varied depending on context and resources
(wind, sun, biomass, etc.), that, use numerous sources of local production such as
wind energy or even consumer-based production of energy from solar panels feeding
excess energy into the system, not all of which can readily be predicted. Different
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stakeholders in the electricity sector bring considerably varied views to thinking about
what needs to be done, ranging from business as usual to all non-fossil-fueled production,
with any number of positions in between. Environmental impact of electricity systems is
never going to end, and how electricity is produced will continue to be contested terrain for
the foreseeable future. Indeed, in both contexts, it is likely that when some stakeholders are
satisfied with a path or outcome, others may well be unsatisfied. Because of this system
complexity in electricity production, we cannot predict with certainty what outcomes,
for example, numerous sources of local production, will bring to the entire system.
Path dependence
Thousands of change initiatives aim to integrate sustainability into the electricity system
including intergovernmental (e.g. the Kyoto Process, Sustainable Energy for All),
technological such as the MIT Energy Initiative, business such as the World Business
Council for Sustainable Developments (WBCSD) Electricity Utilities Project, NGOs such
as the Electricity Governance Initiative, and multi-stakeholder such as the Carbon
Disclosure Project. To a significant extent, the same institutions and actors comprise the
production and change systems (e.g. WBCSD). Various agents from the production
system participate in change initiatives that can be differentiated by their overt efforts to
change the broader CAS or tackle a wicked problem. The chances of complete agreement
in such a context are slim. However, once decisions have been made (e.g. to move to the
prosumer model), they create pathways that are not readily (or feasibly) reversed.
Path dependence can also be seen in the search for holy grails, such as hydrogen
energy providing low-cost clean electricity that would cause massive disruption of
traditional fuel providers. Path dependency also produces outcomes that may or may
not be desired. For instance, the building of a coal-powered energy production plant has
long-term consequences for a shift to renewable sources because of the sunk costs,
embedded expertise, and resource usage patterns that are not readily shifted once the
initial decision to invest in coal power has been made. Similarly, if the decision is made
to invest in renewables, then momentum is established in that direction with the result
that it is harder to shift back to non-renewables.
Implications for LSC
Ackoff (1974) in his seminal discussion of systems argued that single institutions
cannot successfully tackle LSC (messes) independently. Yet institutions as part of a
broader system, acting (seemingly) independently are in a state of constant dynamic
exchange with the broader CAS. They can potentially support co-evolutionary change
when dealing with wicked problems, or they can thwart it if their efforts move in the
opposite desired direction. Complexity and wicked problems theories support this idea,
because system change requires changes in institutions, including organizations with
their rules and memes and the interstices or spaces between organizations that
constitute a broader whole. Organizations that are able to appreciate their location
in a broader system are more likely to engage in networks and collaborations of
organizations as in the case of the electricity network: creating resources and
competencies beyond those of a single organization are required (Waddell, 2005). Below
we discuss the implications of CAS and wicked problems for LSC.
Understanding system dynamics
CAS and wicked problems are complex, dynamic, interdependent, emergent and
co-evolving. They have no predetermined or predictable outcomes from efforts to
of wicked
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change systems, and each system is unique. Therefore, no established change methods
or approaches are likely to work consistently. Identifying leverage points for change
(Senge, 1990) or nudges (Thaler, 2009), often through shifting vision, values, and other
memes (which, for shorthand, are simply cultural expressions that shape how things
are perceived), that will move the system in the hoped for direction at various levels, is
critical for creating momentum for LSC. Such nudges or shifts need to be determined by
engaging a critical mass of the multiple stakeholders across whatever boundaries exist
within the relevant system (Yarime et al., 2012), or by shifting the memes, regulations
(ground rules), and values that operate within a system of interest. In the electricity
arena, transition theorists have pointed to policy and technological innovations
creating disturbances for emergence of new approaches to issues like electricity, that
aim to create a new regime of values and operating principles (Geels, 2004; Geels and
Schot, 2007; Markard and Truffer, 2008).
Harness complexity, do not simplify it
Orchestrated LSC is impossible, but guiding nudges are. Systems innovate and adapt
to local and system conditions, co-evolving in unpredictable ways in spite of centralized
planning. (Co)-evolution and emergence of new initiatives, visions, and memes will
likely co-exist among the different entities involved, creating wholly new sets of
relationships and outcomes that cannot be predicted in advance. Organizations that are
able to look outward to effect change will often catalyze or engage initiatives to support
internal and external change. Engagement at this level is often looked at as positive.
Complexity, and wickedness contribute to a systems resilience and ability to adapt and
change, meaning that no single entity or institution is sufficiently powerful to take the
entire system down single-handedly. LSC initiatives must harness complexity (Axelrod
and Cohen, 2001) rather than simplify or control it to effectively address wicked
problems embedded in the CAS. In the electricity field the general trend is toward
decentralized systems of generation, distribution, and transmission, but the exact
configurations of new business models is still unclear and requires experimentation
driven by local contexts such as the potential for wind and solar energy. All of this has
led to an emphasis on the development of much more resilient and adaptable strategies
that can more easily incorporate and respond to technologies as they emerge
(Praetorius et al., 2008).
Seek ways of creating coherence
From a complexity perspective, LSC faces a number of fundamental hurdles. Social and
biological systems are by nature CAS. Social problems are, mostly, by nature wicked.
These systems are highly non-linear and evolve on many dimensions, levels, and
domains simultaneously (or sequentially). Any attempts to change the system must
address the underlying mechanisms that support change along with controls that keep
the system in check. For electricity, like many change challenges, this leads to a
focus on policy, finance, technology, consumers, and service provision (Waddell, 2014).
If we accept the basic tenets of CAS that also apply to wicked problems, (including
self-organization, adaptation, and change relative to internal and external conditions to
maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium, co-evolution, non-predictability), non-linearity,
lack of controls by a centralized authority, agents acting independently relative to
localized knowledge and conditions, path dependence, and unpredictability, then we
can appreciate and leverage the complex interactions of agents or institutions needed to
nudge a system to positive and sustainable change by fostering coherence in core
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memes, values, norms, and policies, for example. Importantly, organizations can also
begin to see their role in creating emergent futures rather than simply reacting to its
dynamics. Given the large number of change initiatives that have arisen in the
sustainable electricity sphere, a key question involves development of coherence and
convergence as a change system, rather than ad hoc actions of individual change
initiatives (Waddell, 2014).
Create continuous learning systems
Even if assumptions, objectives, and controls are aligned, however, complexity theory
suggests that the system often evolves before objectives are reached. Therefore wicked
problems must be addressed over time by the system itself through learning and new
initiatives over time. Sustainable solutions to wicked problems therefore must assume
that change occurs over time, sometimes considerable time, and the characteristics of
complexity will require constant innovation and continuous reflection on how to
recalibrate the structural mechanisms to achieve desired outcomes. This aspect of
complexity can require willingness to make big changes in change strategies:
enormous effort, for example, was poured into the Kyoto Process with the idea of a
global accord as a core strategy, but that had to be abandoned in favor of more
localized strategies.
Create prototypes
As a system is subjected to major change or perturbation, it needs internal mechanisms
of self-healing and resilience. These systems evolve through a gradual integration
of innovative solutions that create an intricate balance of structural robustness at
the local level that supports a resilient network in the broader CAS. This need explains
why there are so many electricity change initiatives: identifying what workswhile
building dispersed capacity to implement it allows for such integration of new solutions
within the electricity domain, with an eye toward creating a sustainable, resilient
system for the long term. Because of the complexity of the system, an outside (or inside)
change agent will not be able to keep up with all the things that break (or work) within
the system and fix (support) them. In contrast, successful LSC requires a process of
leveraging small changes that have positive outcomes into larger actions that influence
the system as a whole using networks and interlinkages productively. This involves
even more nudging toward desired ends (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008), and seeing what
directionality evolves, rather than attempts at control. Thus, we see incremental
changeand prototypesbased on new logics within the electricity system as core
elements of realizing transformation.
Create shared visions
As the system evolves or goes through turbulent times, some artifacts, including social
structures, memes, principles, cultures, and behaviors, emerge that ground the system
in new patterns, values, and interactions. The system then adapts around these
artifacts, making them defining elements, i.e., part of the vision of the whole system.
For example, in the electricity arena in California, Europe, and other locations carbon
markets have been established as a way to stimulate new behaviors. Whole ecosystems
become defined by these artifacts, e.g., mountains in natural ecosystems, and new
institutions that have both long term and widespread impacts in social systems. Future
change initiatives thus need to take past ones into consideration.
of wicked
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Implications for LSC agents in organizations
Change agents must take all of these dynamics into account and use them to their
advantage in order to achieve any desired set of changes. It is important to note that
these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for change in a desired direction.
No change agent can survive long enough to see completion of the change because
there is no stopping rule and long-term horizons can sometimes be involved. For
example, the electricity system continues to evolve in response to the sustainability
imperative and new technologies in ways we cannot now foresee, LSC consists of
cultivating the dynamics and putting the system onto a path that leads to desired
outcomes, with the recognition that other stakeholders and change agents in the
system will have different perspectives on what outcomes and approaches are desired,
and take different actions themselves. The effects of any one initiative can be uncertain,
changing the system subtly, or more grandly.
Conceptually, we argue there are a number of things that change agents in
organizations need to consider in potential LSC initiatives. Change agents need to:
(1) Recognize the central role of memes: addressing complex wicked problems
requires transformation of memes, that is, the cultural elements that constitute
vision, values, norms, and cultural artifacts that shape a given situation,
industry, or broader culture. At the organization, institution, and systems level
these are central in creating sustainable change. For example, moving from a
world where carbon emissions are not considered a public issue or, indeed, one
that the public even has a right to concern itself with to one where carbon
emissions are simply unacceptable is the core meme that is changing in
response to climate change concerns. This type of LSC has happened to tobacco
and smoking. Change agents need to understand how to work with and shape
new memes that are in the desired direction and that can be readily understood
by the numerous actors (with different perspectives) whose actions can shift the
relevant context. Organizations and institutions that are out front on these
issues are more likely to preempt even unanticipated change to build on rather
than react to.
(2) Distinguish between incremental, reform, and transformational change: Table I
points out that each of these types of change requires different frameworks,
methods and actions. Incremental change requires a group of skills and
methods that are appropriate for a mediation logic: there is no question about
what to do, only minor questions about how to do it. Reform action requires
supporting a negotiations logic: defining roles and benefits to achieve an
agreed-upon set of goals. Addressing wicked complex challenges and changing
memes requires transformation skills based in a visioning logic that includes
methodologies to change how and what people see and make sense of data and
their world, identify previously unimagined goals and possibilities, and
experiment with radically innovative ways of doing and organizing. It involves
changing the memes or cultural norms that apply in a given situation
because these memes shape the logic guiding change as well as hoped for
outcomes. Applying the wrong action logic undermines ability to address
wicked problems.
(3) Prioritize learning in the context of constant change: complex wicked problems
are confusing and often experienced as overwhelming because addressing them
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involves changes beyond our experience. We can talk about a sustainable
energy system, but no one really knows what it will look and function like. Two
types of learning cycles are needed. One is the traditional experienced-based
type of learning that produce generalizations about historic or past experience.
The other arises from experiments, e.g., prototyping what a sustainable energy
system or components of it could be. Prototyping essentially means
articulating the visioning and transformation logics that provide the core
impetus for dealing with the wicked problem of concern and making the subtle
shifts that can move the system in the desired direction, recognizing that there
is no panacea change that will bring about all the desired shifts and that
smaller, more subtle moves will be needed in a variety of places and from a
variety of actors.
(4) Work with a co-evolution and emergence action framework: all the pieces of
wicked problems and CAS are connected and constantly in motion you
cannot simply hold them still. There are also huge problems in isolating parts
because once connected to the system, they may act very differently than
expected because of the influence of the systems dynamics and inherently
unpredictable nature of such problems. Moreover, when a new meme comes
to dominate, the very nature of the nature of the change challenge moves
from transformation to reform and incremental change. Issues are also deeply
interconnected: energy, water, food security, poverty are all connected, and
shifting the dynamics in one of these will have impacts on the others, again in
ways that are not necessarily predictable. Changing memes also involves
changing the very way we categorize and talk about issues. All this requires
working on complex wicked problems with an eye to emergence and making
what is first a peripheral innovation (technological, belief, economic, etc.)
more central. This type of action requires both a dynamic of pushing
forwardrelentlessly, and taking advantage and creating ad hoc
opportunities to support emergence of multiple possibilities, since it is not
clear which bet will be successful.
Co-evolution also requires a change system consciousness, rather than
simply attending to a particular change initiative. After all, it is a new system
that is evolving, not simply an organization. This change system perspective
can produce substantial synergies, reduce duplication, and address gaps in
needed change efforts to speed the transformation, when the dynamics of
complexity and wicked problems are harnessed rather than ignored.
(5) Emphasize resilience and adaptation: rather than thinking in terms of
permanentas a highly valued attribute, wicked problems emphasize giving
primacy to the concepts and values of resilience and adaptation. Permanent
suggests a non-learning entity that is brittle and unresponsive to changing
contexts and shifting needs. Complex responses must respond to context, which
requires valuing diversity as a key source of adaptive power to support multiple
actions. A resilient and adaptive electricity system will shift from the permanence
of large system energy generation infrastructure, to highly decentralized multi-
source systems. Of course, creating such resilience requires dealing with huge
power issues among the current actors who will be displaced or substantially
transformed, and supporting considerable experimentation.
of wicked
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Successful organizational change can no longer focus only on creating systems and
structures that respond to a changing world, but rather engages and contributes
to the evolution of sustainable realities. Organizational change management needs to
recognize its position of influence in creating systems that support a flourishing future.
Social, political, technological, and natural system sustainability creates the conditions
for prosperity, resilience, and sustainability. By recognizing our individual and
collective influence on our broader systems we are able to more effectively position
organizations to not simply prepare for change, but create positive LSC. LSC, as we
have noted, involves shifting the dynamics of multiple, interacting, and interdependent
institutions organized around complex issues and wicked problems in desired directions
over time.
The unparalleled interconnectivity of human systems has supported a pace of
change unprecedented in human history. While we have seen great progress and
innovation we have also seen human and natural devastation of unimagined
proportions only decades ago. As we face social, political, natural, and financial crisis of
unparalleled significance organizations are faced with tremendous opportunity and
unfathomable risk. Organizational change management has, hence, become
increasingly important. New models for understanding the organization and its role
in creating a sustainable future for itself and the broader system are needed. Change
agents must expand their framework of understanding leadership and innovation
beyond organizational boundaries to include the broader systems within which an
entity exists. There is also wide recognition that people and organizations should play
an active role in influencing change in the large systems in which they live at least to
do well, i.e., to create value for themselves, others, and the system as a whole, and
possible to do good, i.e., to create value for the systems they live and thrive in. LSC is
essential to support a flourishing future, complexity science, and our understanding of
wicked problems has created a framework for appreciating the context and dynamics
of systems and their corresponding behaviors while providing parameters for action.
The integration of complexity science and our understanding of wicked problems
can underpin the development of a comprehensive framework for supporting effective
LSC solutions. By integrating these concepts we expand our understanding of
organizational change management and provide change agents with a view to how
they can enhance their roles and influence and use the power of system dynamics to
support positive action for sustainable change. We recognize that this paper only
begins that task of evolving our understanding of organizational change management
and its application and implications in a dynamic, complex, and interdependent world.
We urge other scholars and change agents to help think through the cross-sectoral,
inter-organizational, and change dynamics involved in the types of LSC efforts need to
bring about a more sustainable, secure, and equitable world for all.
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of wicked
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About the authors
Dr Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy, the Carroll School Scholar of Corporate
Responsibility, and a Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management, Boston
College, USA. Dr Sandra Waddock is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Dr Greta M. Meszoely was Founder and executive Director of the Center for Business
Complexity and Global Leadership and Associate Professor of Strategy in the Sawyer School of
Business at Suffolk University in Boston, MA when she began working on this article. She is
currently launching two new companies that allow universal access to advanced data science
capabilities to better understand complex systems for more effective decision-making.
Dr Steve Waddell is Principal at the Networking Action and Founding Executive Director of
the Global Action Network Net (GAN-Net). He is also a Lead Steward for the GOLDEN
Ecosystems Labs.
Domenico Dentoni is an Assistant Professor at the Management Studies Group, Department
of Social Sciences and a Principal Investigator of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation
at the Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
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... This paper consolidates and summarizes our reflections during the recorded virtual event, and draws from an audience survey and later exchanges among the authors. Framing our reflections within current ArtScience discussions and ongoing initiatives, we demonstrate how ArtScience can contribute to the necessary transformation of ocean science and address wicked ocean sustainability problems through new ways of thinking and action (Waddock et al., 2015). We conclude with a look ahead to how future collaborations between ocean science and ocean art might inspire innovation and renewal of our entangled and troubled kinship with the Ocean. ...
... By definition, inquiries into wicked problems cannot arrive at conclusive truths (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Instead, they can help us transform situations by reexamining how to make sense of them (Waddock et al., 2015). ...
... ArtScience collaborations can help facilitate dialogue and create relationships and networks among diverse stakeholders, thus enabling the collective determination of the 'right' action at any one moment (Wexler, 2009). ArtScience collaborations can also help develop place-centric collaborative approaches for engagement and help reexamine our relationship with the Ocean overall, both of which are necessary for inspiring and sustaining continued action (Waddock et al., 2015;Crowley and Head, 2017). ...
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The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development recognizes the current ocean sustainability crisis and calls for a transformation of ocean science. Many of the key challenges recognized by the UN Decade are examples of wicked problems: intractable and messy situations with high stakeholder divergence. Addressing wicked ocean sustainability problems requires adaptable, iterative, and participatory approaches that can embrace multiple ways of knowing. It also requires a re-imagining of our relationship with the Ocean from extraction and resulting environmental degradation, towards the building of a sense of connection and stewardship. We propose ArtScience as a means to this end by highlighting how transdisciplinary collaborations can help create sustainable ocean futures. We reflect on a recent ArtScience event emerging from Ocean Networks Canada’s Artist-in-Residence programme. By situating ArtScience in a broader context of inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations, we demonstrate how ArtScience collaborations can help transform ocean science by envisioning previously unimagined possibilities, and establishing and strengthening relationships with diverse stakeholders through long-term mission-driven or place-based inquiry. We conclude with a call to action to acknowledge the potential these collaborations hold for addressing the challenges of the UN Ocean Decade.
... These arguments have become increasingly compelling as the persistence of such 'wicked problems' as global poverty, rising inequalities, climate change, and biodiversity loss remain unresolved (Head, 2008;Moser et al., 2012;Head & Alford, 2015). These ongoing challenges have led to calls for greater acknowledgement and engagement with the dynamic, multidimensional, and inherently complex nature of such problems (Burns & Worsley, 2015;Hämäläinen, 2015;Waddock et al., 2015;Reyers et al., 2015;Salonen & Konkka, 2015;Lambe, Ran, Jürisoo, et al., 2020a). ...
... To achieve an inclusive society, designers must face complex systems and wicked problems at different levels, from the individual, community, organization to society level (Waddock et al., 2015). Therefore, facilitating the transformation of a system, or designing a new system, requires a participatory, systemic, comprehensive, and creative approach that addresses a multitude of interconnected and complex issues. ...
Conference Paper
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Social exclusion needs to be studied from a comprehensive and exploratory perspective as a complex and systemic social problem, and there is an urgent need to promote social transformation towards an inclusive society. Over the past decade, Speculative Design has shown great potential as a critical approach to exploring the future and dealing with social issues. Also, there has been growing discussion about the approaches and applications of Service Design and Systemic Design to social issues and complex system problems. Complexity is a keyword in common for coping with social transformation and these three approaches. Further, to reach an inclusive society, designers have to face complex systems and wicked problems at different scales, from government, organizations, and communities to final users, even including a non-human perspective. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to build a more comprehensive understanding of Speculative Design, Service Design, and Systemic De-sign themselves and the relationships between them by drawing together discussions from existing literature. This paper aims to support the startup of new research exploring whether integrating these three design approaches can support the systemic inclusive social transformation.
... The literature on wicked problems and systems change distinguishes several relevant dimensions that denote sources of complexity (Waddock et al., 2015;Alford and Head, 2017;McConnell, 2018). Relevant insights that shed further light on the nature of linkages and the dynamics at play can be clustered Frontiers in Water | ...
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The world is facing a large number of interrelated crises that have seriously increased the level of uncertainty and ambiguity in many areas. In 2018, the UN anticipated that the world was careering toward a global water crisis with a 40% shortfall in freshwater resources by 2030 coupled with a rising population. This nascent crisis represents a “connected challenge” for countries: it contains a multitude of causes and consequences, a multitude of actors and interests for which no “one-size-fits-all” solutions are available. The adequate approach to this type of complex—or “wicked”—problems is not to search for technological solutions only, but to consider new forms of governance that make use of complementary institutional logics. Effective governance depends on the extent of alignment with the complexity and the root causes of the issues. This paper applies wicked problem theory to identify the root institutional and governance causes of uncertainty in a developing country like Brazil, which provides insights to (also) identify approaches that could navigate change in less uncertain and ambiguous directions. We distinguish three types of relevant institutional constraints: logics, complementarities, and voids. Based on semi-structured interviews with representatives from Brazil's water and sanitation sector, we delineate institutional constraints precipitated by the plurality of the governance system. We argue why a tripartite partnership approach—as for instance pioneered by Dutch international water projects in the global South—presents a way out of the wicked water and sanitation problems in Brazil.
... Innovation and change are the foundations of sustainable development and contribute to creating a resilient future. To this aim, it is crucial to consider a risk-based approach to carry out transformation in real-world complex systems (Holton 2020;Waddock et al. 2015). The scope of this study is Critical Infrastructures (CI) and their role in the transformation of complex systems. ...
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Socio-ecologic, socio-economic, and socio-technical transitions are opportunities that require fundamental changes in the system. These will encounter matters associated with security, service adoption by end-users, infrastructure and availability. The purpose of this study is to examine and overcome the risks to take advantage of opportunities through the novel Risky-Opportunity Analysis Method (ROAM). A novel quantitative method is designed to determine when, after making some changes, the risks become acceptable so that the opportunity does not deviate from the objectives. The approach provided a quantitative evaluation of the possible changes in parallel with digitization, towards providing a green Service Supply Chain (SSC). The result of ROAM shows that the most cost-effective change to increase the resilience of the system is a solution (SMS) which is different from that identified by a TOPSIS multi-criteria method. Real-word decisions in change management should tackle the complexity of systems and uncertainty of events during and after transition through a careful analysis of the alternatives. A case-study was carried out to evaluate the alternatives of an ancillary service in the Payment Service Providers (PSP). The comparison of the ROAM results with the traditional TOPSIS of the case-study unveils the priority of the ROAM in practice when the alternatives are Risky-Opportunities. The existing risk assessment tools do not take advantage of risky opportunities. To this aim, the current article introduces the term Risky-Opportunity, and two indexes—Stress and Strain—of the alternatives that are designed to be employed in the new quantitative ROAM approach.
... While the cross-sector (including multi-stakeholder) partnership literature has explored sources of conflicting interests in partnerships (e.g., Murphy et al., 2012;Selsky & Parker, 2005;van Tulder & Pfisterer, 2014), there is a dearth of studies focused on how partners negotiate different viewpoints about the grand challenge in working to achieve partnership goals (Gillett et al., 2019). For multi-stakeholder partnerships to function effectively, it is necessary for actors to negotiate the multiple viewpoints regarding the grand challenge that originates from different organizations embedded within distinct sectors (see Brannen & Salk, 2000;Dentoni et al., 2018;Waddock et al., 2015). The process of negotiating meaning in such partnerships is likely to be continuous (Dentoni et al., 2018;Jay, 2013) and to involve conflicting interests (Powell et al., 2018) and ongoing issues related to the grand challenge, both within and outside of the partnership (Dentoni et al., 2018). ...
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While multi-stakeholder partnerships are emerging as an increasingly popular approach to address grand challenges, they are not well studied or understood. Such partnerships are rife with difficulties arising from the fact that actors in the partnership have different understandings of the grand challenge based on meaning systems which have distinct and often opposing assumptions, values, and practices. Each partnership actor brings with them their individual values as well as the values and work practices of their home organization’s culture, alongside the wider meaning systems present within the sectoral spaces in which each organization is situated—public, private, or nonprofit. Yet, there is little understanding of how actors in multi-stakeholder partnerships negotiate multi-level meaning systems to reach partnership goals. In this 16-month ethnographic study, we take up a negotiated culture perspective to holistically examine the negotiation of multi-level meaning related to a focal grand challenge in a multi-stakeholder partnership established to end homelessness in Western Canada. Based on our findings, we contribute a process model to explain the ongoing negotiation of multi-level meanings in multi-stakeholder partnerships working to address grand challenges.
... To achieve an inclusive society, designers must face complex systems and wicked problems at different levels, from the individual, community, organization to society level (Waddock et al., 2015). Therefore, facilitating the transformation of a system, or designing a new system, requires a participatory, systemic, comprehensive, and creative approach that addresses a multitude of interconnected and complex issues. ...
Full-text available
Editorial The RSD10 symposium was held at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, 2nd-6th November 2021. After a successful (yet unforeseen) online version of the RSD 9 symposium, RSD10 was designed as a hybrid conference. How can we facilitate the physical encounters that inspire our work, yet ensure a global easy access for joining the conference, while dealing well with the ongoing uncertainties of the global COVID pandemic at the same time? In hindsight, the theme of RSD10 could not have been a better fit with the conditions in which it had to be organized: “Playing with Tensions: Embracing new complexity, collaboration and contexts in systemic design”. Playing with Tensions Complex systems do not lend themselves for simplification. Systemic designers have no choice but to embrace complexity, and in doing so, embrace opposing concepts and the resulting paradoxes. It is at the interplay of these ideas that they find the most fruitful regions of exploration. The main conference theme explored design and systems thinking practices as mediators to deal fruitfully with tensions. Our human tendency is to relieve the tensions, and in design, to resolve the so-called “pain points.” But tensions reveal paradoxes, the sites of connection, breaks in scale, emergence of complexity. Can we embrace the tension and paradoxes as valuable social feedback in our path to just and sustainable futures? The symposium took off with two days of well-attended workshops on campus and online. One could sense tensions through embodied experiences in one of the workshops, while reframing systemic paradoxes as fruitful design starting points in another. In the tradition of RSD, a Gigamap Exhibition was organized. The exhibition showcased mind-blowing visuals that reveal the tension between our own desire for order and structure and our desire to capture real-life dynamics and contradicting perspectives. Many of us enjoyed the high quality and diversity in the keynotes throughout the symposium. As chair of the SDA, Dr. Silvia Barbero opened in her keynote with a reflection on the start and impressive evolution of the Relating Systems thinking and Design symposia. Prof.Dr. Derk Loorbach showed us how transition research conceptualizes shifts in societal systems and gave us a glimpse into their efforts to foster desired ones. Prof.Dr. Elisa Giaccardi took us along a journey of technologically mediated agency. She advocated for a radical shift in design to deal with this complex web of relationships between things and humans. Indy Johar talked about the need to reimagine our relationship with the world as one based on fundamental interdependence. And finally, Prof.Dr. Klaus Krippendorf systematically unpacked the systemic consequences of design decisions. Together these keynote speakers provided important insights into the role of design in embracing systemic complexity, from the micro-scale of our material contexts to the macro-scale of globally connected societies. And of course, RSD10 would not be an RSD symposium if it did not offer a place to connect around practical case examples and discuss how knowledge could improve practice and how practice could inform and guide research. Proceedings RSD10 has been the first symposium in which contributors were asked to submit a full paper: either a short one that presented work-in-progress, or a long one presenting finished work. With the help of an excellent list of reviewers, this set-up allowed us to shape a symposium that offered stage for high-quality research, providing a platform for critical and fruitful conversations. Short papers were combined around a research approach or methodology, aiming for peer-learning on how to increase the rigour and relevance of our studies. Long papers were combined around commonalities in the phenomena under study, offering state-of-the-art research. The moderation of engaged and knowledgeable chairs and audience lifted the quality of our discussions. In total, these proceedings cover 33 short papers and 19 long papers from all over the world. From India to the United States, and Australia to Italy. In the table of contents, each paper is represented under its RSD 10 symposium track as well as a list of authors ordered alphabetically. The RSD10 proceedings capture the great variety of high-quality papers yet is limited to only textual contributions. We invite any reader to visit the website to browse through slide-decks, video recordings, drawing notes and the exhibition to get the full experience of RSD10 and witness how great minds and insights have been beautifully captured! Word of thanks Let us close off with a word of thanks to our dean and colleagues for supporting us in hosting this conference, the SDA for their trust and guidance, Dr. Peter Jones and Dr. Silvia Barbero for being part of the RSD10 scientific committee, but especially everyone who contributed to the content of the symposium: workshop moderators, presenters, and anyone who participated in the RSD 10 conversation. It is only in this complex web of (friction-full) relationships that we can further our knowledge on systemic design: thanks for being part of it! Dr. JC Diehl, Dr. Nynke Tromp, and Dr. Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer Editors RSD10
... This message can be derived from the literature on wicked problems quite unambiguously, especially when parallels are drawn between wicked problems and complex adaptive systems (e.g. Peters, 2017;Waddock et al., 2015;Wagenaar, 2007). But what exactly does it mean to say that wicked problems are processual all the way down? ...
Given the rapid pace of population growth, urbanization and hence construction and development, businesses within the built environment industry play a critical role in ensuring a more sustainable future. Transformative and innovative changes in how neighbourhoods, districts or even cities will be designed, planned and built to meet mounting social and environmental concerns is critical, and yet our understanding of the role of the business sector in sustainable urban development (SUD) remains elusive. To address this issue, we have engaged in a comprehensive review of the empirical literature on business and SUD, presenting a synthesis of our findings, an evidence-based theoretical model and an outline of our contributions to the sustainability literature.
This op ed argues that the pandemic has highlighted the emergence of a new type of entity called a transformation catalyst (TC). TCs help collections of initiatives with similar agendas see and understand their system, connect to like‐minded others to develop coherence for their efforts, and thereby amplify their impact by working in coherence and sometimes coordinated—yet independent—ways. Such efforts around issues like reframing the purpose of business or efforts to transform business sectors are enhanced and their effectiveness catalyzed by TCs. TCs work by helping initiatives see and understand their system, connect with like‐minded others, and cohere their efforts. These activities can amplify the impacts of initiatives to bring needed system transformation into being.
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Constructing roads in Madagascar; forestry along Canada's Pacific Coast; water and sanitation projects in South Africa; community banking in the United States; constructing a new global system for corporate reporting. These all have something in common. They provide great illustrations of the types of profound and wise changes needed in the way we run our affairs if we are to respond to the scale of environmental and social challenges and opportunities facing us. They are examples of "societal learning and change". Today, this phenomenon is occurring across industries as diverse as resources extraction, infrastructure development, agriculture and information technology at the local, national, regional and global levels. Its essence involves the ability to create rich relationships that bridge large differences. This book describes this phenomenon for practitioners to help them address issues and develop opportunities more effectively. Building on the traditions of individual and organizational learning, this book suggests that our challenge is to create learning societies and processes. This involves both change in ourselves as individuals, but also change in the way the three key systems that make up our societies – the political system (government), economic system (business) and social system (civil society) – function by creating more robust interactions that respond to human and environmental imperatives rather than organizational ones. Societal Learning and Change presents a meta-framework that covers diverse approaches, including corporate citizenship, social responsibility, community development, private-public partnerships, inter-sectoral collaboration and sustainability strategies. It makes sense of all of these by emphasising that they all share the need to change relationships at the societal level and explaining how to do this from a systems perspective. The book helps overcome the conundrum where individual organisations are unsuccessfully trying to achieve big change with their stakeholders. Rather than stakeholder management with an organization-centric viewpoint, this book describes the importance of taking a stakeholder engagement and issue/opportunity-centric strategy. Wherever you are, you can make a contribution to shifting the paradigm through a societal learning and change strategy. The critical contribution is creating new relationships between people and organizations that traditionally would not interact but in fact have common interests. When these relationships become meaningful by addressing a problem or developing an opportunity, people begin to learn about each other and develop mutual appreciation and understanding. Often this process is complicated and confusing. People do not use words in the same way even if they speak the same formal language; they do not learn or perceive the world the same way although they may share a common culture; their organizations have diverse goals, resources and weaknesses that make working together problematic. However, it is these very differences that are the source of the value of working together. Societal Learning and Change aims to make it easier to solve differences in order to work together successfully; it does this by identifying some of the differences as sources of tension and opportunity and describing the development processes of building relationships that can produce mutually rewarding innovation that is unimaginable when the relationship begins. This is an extremely optimistic book at a time of great pessimism about the huge forces of globalization and corporate power that seem to be overwhelming us. It will be essential reading for students and practitioners in the fields of organizational learning, sustainability, poverty, international development and stakeholder relations.
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Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, persisting poverty, a mounting obesity epidemic, food insecurity and the use of biotechnology are all examples of wicked problems faced by agricultural and food organizations. Yet, managers and policy-makers often do not recognize that these problems are “wicked”. Wicked problems have cause-effect relationships that are difficult or impossible to define, cannot be framed and solved without creating controversies among stakeholders and require collective action among societal groups with strongly held, conflicting beliefs and values. In contrast to past research, this Special Issue takes an organizational perspective by tackling three key managerial questions: what is the value of managing wicked problems and engaging with multiple stakeholders? What are the human and organizational resources and the strategic conditions needed to engage with multiple stakeholders effectively? How can multi-stakeholder engagements be undertaken? A world collection of empirical case studies conducted by business, NGO and university leaders tackle these questions. For managers, the Issue offers recent and thought-provoking insights on how to recognize and deal with wicked problems. For academics, it proposes an agenda for addressing the topic and promises to fuel a research and education debate for years to come. Keywords: wicked problems, sustainability; agriculture; Stakeholder Theory; multi-stakeholder initiatives
Innovation is key to achieving a sustainable electricity system. New technologies and organizational changes can bring about more sustainable, climate-friendly electricity structures. Yet the dynamics of innovation are complex, and difficult to shape. This book, written by experts in the field, sets out to explore the dynamics, the drivers and the setting of innovation processes. Case studies on micro cogeneration, carbon capture and storage, consumer feedback, network regulation and emissions trading provide insights into innovation dynamics in the electricity system and are analyzed to derive strategic implications for innovation policies. A special focus is placed on drivers and barriers of change, and their consequences for shaping the innovation process. This book is an indispensable source of information for researchers and decision makers in energy and climate change as well as for lecturers and students interested in the principles and ramifications of electricity innovation dynamics.
Irreversible processes are the source of order: hence 'order out of chaos.' Processes associated with randomness (openness) lead to higher levels of organisation. Under certain conditions, entropy may thus become the progenitor of order. The authors propose a vast synthesis that embraces both reversible and irreversible time, and show how they relate to one another at both macroscopic and minute levels of examination.-A.Toffler
Complex organizations exhibit surprising, nonlinear behavior. Although organization scientists have studied complex organizations for many years, a developing set of conceptual and computational tools makes possible new approaches to modeling nonlinear interactions within and between organizations. Complex adaptive system models represent a genuinely new way of simplifying the complex. They are characterized by four key elements: agents with schemata, self-organizing networks sustained by importing energy, coevolution to the edge of chaos, and system evolution based on recombination. New types of models that incorporate these elements will push organization science forward by merging empirical observation with computational agent-based simulation. Applying complex adaptive systems models to strategic management leads to an emphasis on building systems that can rapidly evolve effective adaptive solutions. Strategic direction of complex organizations consists of establishing and modifying environments within which effective, improvised, self-organized solutions can evolve. Managers influence strategic behavior by altering the fitness landscape for local agents and reconfiguring the organizational architecture within which agents adapt. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR] Copyright of Organization Science is the property of INFORMS: Institute for Operations Research and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)
To compare and contrast institutional theories used in organizational analysis, the theoretical frameworks and arguments of leading contributors to institutional theory are reviewed and recent empirical studies using institutional arguments are examined. Both approaches reveal considerable variation in the types of concepts and arguments employed, and it is argued that further improvement and growth in institutional theory is dependent upon analysts dealing more explicitly with these differences. In addition, the relation between institutions and interests is explored to show that institutional features of organizational environments shape both the goals and means of actors. Attention is called to the two primary types of actors shaping institutional environments in modern societies- the state and professional bodies-and to the way in which their interests and mode of action shape institutional patterns and mechanisms.
Draws on global forecasting tools, the predictions of over thirty experts, and the author's experience in sustainability to speculate on the world's economic future, addressing overpopulation, renewable energy, and China as a superpower.