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Some of the most difficult policy problems of the modern era have been described as complex, intractable, open-ended and 'wicked'. What are the key features of such problems? And are they really very different in nature from more routine problems? Are we developing better ways to address these wicked problems? This paper sketches some key aspects of wicked problems, and illustrates the discussion with two contemporary Australian examples - recent attempts to address the causes and possible solutions to Indigenous disadvantage; and policy responses to climate change.
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Wicked Problems in Public Policy
* This paper is a revised version of a presentation to the Australian Public Policy Network conference, 29–30
January 2008. The author thanks many colleagues who have helped in the further clarification of these ideas,
including John Alford, Alan Fenna, Patrick Weller, Andrew Podger, and the anonymous referees for this journal
none of whom bears any responsibility for errors.
© 2008 Curtin University of Technology ISSN 1833-2110
Brian W Head *
The University of Queensland
Some of the most difficult policy problems of the modern era have been described as
complex, intractable, open-ended and wicked’. What are the key features of such
problems? And are they really very different in nature from more routine problems? Are
we developing better ways to address these wicked problems? This paper sketches
some key aspects of wicked problems, and illustrates the discussion with two
contemporary Australian examples recent attempts to address the causes and
possible solutions to Indigenous disadvantage; and policy responses to climate change.
There is a growing literature on ‘wicked problems’, which are generally seen as complex,
open-ended, and intractable. Both the nature of the ‘problem’ and the preferred ‘solution’
are strongly contested. This paper outlines the main features of this debate and considers
why these issues have been attracting more attention in recent times, both conceptual and
practical. There has been surprisingly little attention in the research literature as to how
wicked problems are identified, understood and managed by practitioners concerned with
policy and management. The paper suggests there are new challenges for both researchers
and practitioners in coming to grips with these issues. Standard public management
responses to complexity and uncertainty (markets, outsourcing, regulatory prescription)
seem to be inadequate. New process responses (joined-up government, cross-sectoral
collaboration, mediation and conflict reduction processes) are increasingly being tested. We
appear to require some new approaches for addressing the multiple causes of problems,
opening up new insights about productive pathways for better solutions, and thus gaining
broad stakeholder acceptance of shared strategies.
Background: the emergence of wicked problems
The discourse around ‘wicked’ problems emerged more than thirty years ago. A variety of
critiques had emerged concerning the perceived dominance of rational-technical or
‘engineering’ approaches to complex issues of social policy and urban planning. Firstly,
public administration critics of complex policy programs (e.g. the US programs in the late
1960s designed to alleviate poverty, housing and unemployment problems in disadvantaged
urban areas), claimed that success was virtually impossible, because the required levels of
information, goal-clarity, and coordination were too difficult to meet (Pressman and
Wildavsky 1973). The message was that decision-makers should be less ambitious, and
should be content to tackle more carefully defined and manageable elements of large
problems rather than become over-committed to a comprehensive or ‘blueprint’ approach.
A second group of critics, based in social policy analysis, argued that technical approaches
are bound to overlook the values, perspectives and lived experience of the stakeholders and
citizens who are directly or indirectly assisted or involved in these interventions. According to
this critique, the growth of scientific and technical expertise alone cannot resolve difficult
policy problems. The big and difficult issues should be seen as based on competing views
and value frameworks. Addressing such problems requires deliberation and debate
concerning the nature of the issues and exploring alternative ways forward. This deliberative
process of solution-seeking, with its recognition of perspectives and values that ‘frame’ the
definition of problems, is quite different from top-down imposition of technical solutions, or
from expertise-based solutions arising from the growth in empirical knowledge (Rein 1976,
Schon and Rein 1994).
The most challenging and wide-ranging critique of orthodox planning rationality emerged in
Rittel and Webber’s famous paper, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” (Rittel and
Webber 1973). Building on work in the ‘decision sciences’, they declared that the days of
solving major urban and social problems through an ‘engineering’ approach have ended.
Modern society is too pluralistic to tolerate imposed and artificial solutions. Social groups
have important differences in attitudes and values that undermine the possibility of clear and
agreed solutions. The finite problems tackled by science and engineering are relatively ‘tame’
or ‘benign’ in the sense that the elements of a mathematics problem are definable and
solutions are verifiable. By contrast, modern social problems are seen as ‘ill-defined’, inter-
linked, and relying on political judgments rather than scientific certitudes. In this sense, most
major public policy problems are ‘wicked’ (Rittel and Webber 1973: 160), i.e. they are
inherently resistant to a clear statement of the problem and resistant to a clear and agreed
solution. Science cannot resolve these dilemmas by filling the gaps in empirical knowledge.
Rittel and Webber (1973) identified ten primary characteristics of wicked problems:
1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem, i.e. even the definition and
scope of the problem is contested;
2. Wicked problems have no ‘stopping rule’, i.e. no definitive solution.
3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad in the eyes of
4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
5. Every (attempted) solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one-shot operation’; the results
cannot be readily undone, and there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error.
6. Wicked problems do not have a clear set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-
described set of permissible operations to be incorporated into the plan.
7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in
numerous ways.
10. The planner has no ‘right to be wrong’, i.e. there is no public tolerance of initiatives
or experiments that fail.
Many scholars have found these features to be helpful in explaining the difficulties that have
plagued some areas of urban planning, social policy, and environmental and natural
resources policy (e.g. Allen & Gould 1986, Freeman 2000, Kepkay 2002, Campbell 2003,
Van Bueren et al 2003, Salwasser 2004, Conklin 2006). The attraction of the ‘wicked problem’
concept is that it seems to provide additional insights concerning why many policies and
programs generate controversy, fail to achieve their stated goals, cause unforeseen effects, or
are impossibly difficult to coordinate and monitor. Even the business management literature is
re-discovering ‘wicked problems’ as a way of understanding the role of business strategy in
making sense of chaotic economic behaviour under conditions of risk and uncertainty
(Camillus 2008). It is not clear, however, that labeling a problem as ‘wicked’ will readily assist
in solving it. Nevertheless, this approach might help to generate wider understanding of
strategies available for managing and coping with complex and chaotic issues.
According to Koppenjan and Klijn (2004), writing from a public management perspective,
‘uncertainty’ is a core feature embedded in all the institutional and knowledge aspects of our
attempts to deal with ‘wicked’ problems. However, this approach is argued in the present
paper that uncertainty is inherent in all areas of social life, and even high levels of uncertainty
may not be sufficient to tip an issue into the category of wicked problems it is also
necessary to explore levels of complexity and the extent of value-based divergence among
Table 1: Complexity, uncertainty and divergence
Complexity of elements, sub-
systems and interdependencies Low Moderate High
Uncertainty in relation to risks,
consequences of action, and Low Moderate High
changing patterns
Divergence and fragmentation
in viewpoints, values, strategic Low Moderate High
In principle, it should be possible to ‘map’ issues in terms of low, moderate or high levels of
complexity, uncertainty, and divergence, as represented in Table 1. Wicked problems, on this
view, would be those rating highly across these three dimensions. Complexity is clearly a
constituent feature of wickedness, but complexity itself is not enough to trigger a wicked
problem since there are many aspects of complexity that are amenable to scientific analysis
and technical/engineering controls. There are many complex economic and social
phenomena (with their respective ‘maps’, e.g. regional economic activity modelling) which
are difficult to estimate precisely, but which are not thereby wicked. Likewise, mere
disagreement among stakeholders does not make a problem wicked, but when serious
disagreements are combined with complexity and uncertainty we have crossed a threshold.
These reinforcing relationships, representing an intensification of ‘wickedness’, are outlined
in Figure 1.
Figure 1: ‘Wicked’ as a combination of complexity, uncertainty and divergence
It is important to emphasise that these patterns could be very different across various policy
issues or problem domains. The patterns will also change over time as old settlements
become undermined by circumstances; new issues move into the political attention cycle; or
new policy instruments are freshly applied to a wider range of areas. Responsibility for
recognising and responding to particular problem-areas may also shift over time. Many
issues have been re-defined as matters for public sector responsibility over the last century
or so, but this allocation is open to debate and constantly adjusted. Thus, responsibilities for
many issues are perceived as lying largely with non-government actors: individuals, parents,
families, neighbourhoods. Some issues may be seen as best handled through market
mechanisms (exchange, trading, pricing) where business enterprises will play a larger role. In
other policy areas, not-for-profit community organisations, charitable associations and
churches may be seen as having a greater role. It is also important to note that wickedness
is not just about a clash of ideas and values; it is also implicated in structures, processes and
institutional arrangements including power, authority, and procedural rules.
A few brief examples illustrate some of these points. In some cases, a major project initiative
may be widely recognised as deeply marked by complexities and uncertainties (e.g. building
a new electronic information system); but the challenges are nevertheless regarded as
matters for technical experts to resolve following initial scoping discussion with a few key
stakeholders (e.g. the system owner and any key clients). By contrast, the issues arising in
other types of projects (e.g. building a new freeway to reduce metropolitan traffic congestion)
might be regarded as involving significant technical expertise (e.g. engineering specifications,
cost controls), but the overall project challenge is much broader than technical-experts can
resolve because both the goals and the methods are likely to be heavily contested by a wide
range of stakeholders directly or indirectly affected by the proposal. Taking a different
example, uncertainty and value-disagreement may both contribute to conflict on some policy
matters (e.g. genetically-modified crops), but other forms of risk and uncertainty might
generate social cohesion rather than conflict (e.g. fear of external aggression could generate
a widespread desire for strong central action to improve public security, even if the probability
of violence is low). In another variation, some areas of uncertainty may generate strongly felt
disagreements about problems and solutions, and could lead to a gridlock of fixed positions
(e.g. the early debates about ‘sustainable development’ and the inherent ‘trade-offs’
between economic growth and environmental values).
Can Wicked Problems Be Solved?
There are an increasing number of policy areas where traditional approaches are seen as
having failed to ‘deliver the goods’. Traditional is here taken to mean both technical (expert-
driven) solutions, as well as routine administrative solutions (bureaucratic business as usual).
To the extent that traditional approaches to management and problem-solving are seen as
having failed to provide effective or successful long-term outcomes in many problem areas,
open dialogues among stakeholders and experts to seek ‘new ideas’ (e.g. ideas summits)
are sometimes initiated to ‘snowball’ some possible ways forward. Where issues are more
intensely important to specialised or targeted stakeholders, negotiated accommodations
among key participants may be seen as necessary and appropriate. Under such conditions
negotiated goals, open processes, battling to address complex causal pathways the
effectiveness and longevity of traditional solutions may indeed be problematic.
In some cases the key challenge is to unpack and discuss entrenched differences. The
pathway most commonly adopted in this instance is mediated dialogue, seeking to explore
common ground about longer term goals and directions, and interim steps for moving
forward together. The substantial research literature on conflict resolution (e.g. Susskind et al
1999) has analysed many scenarios and provided advice on how to address ‘intractable
issues’. This literature is helpful in drawing attention to the role of values, the nature of the
parties in dispute, issue-histories, and the organisational context for dispute-resolution (see
Table 2). All of these matters are relevant to assessing the depth and breadth of problems
and the prospects for well-informed and cooperative solutions.
Table 2: Sources of Intractable Conflicts
More Tractable More Intractable
Parties Bounded Diffuse
Well-organised Unorganised
Clearly Defined Members Loose Collective Members
Roles and Mission Roles and Mission
Lacking Structure
Issues Consensual Dissensual
Agreement on Values Fundamental Value
Disagreement on Allocation Differences
Social System Prescribed Ambiguous
Well-defined Structures Ill-defined Structures
Clear Procedures and Rules Uncertainty in Procedures
Legitimate Authority Absence of Clear Authority
Conflict Process De-escalated Escalated
Contained and Focused Growth in Parties, Issues and Costs
Commitment to Resolving Polarisation and Segregation
Issues Conflict Spirals
Conflict Cycles Broken Up
Source: Putnam and Wondolleck (2003: 45).
This research on the potential contribution of carefully designed forums for mediation,
conflict reduction, dialogue and deliberation is highly relevant for assessing the nature of
major problems. Understanding the perspectives of key stakeholders, the knowledge bases
available, the extent of agreement on broad goals, and the prospects for developing shared
expectations, can provide a sound basis for considering how further engagement should
occur and how future decisions should be made. These processes can help address the
insecurities arising from uncertainty, complexity and divergence. The role of facilitated
dialogue, as an element of robust community consultation (Head 2007), is highly relevant for
many elements of the ‘policy cycle’ including policy design and development, program
evaluation and review, and in practical problem-solving to improve implementation.
Failures and under-performance are common in most areas of policy design and program
delivery. How are these to be explained? It is argued here that conventional explanations
usually tend to focus on weaknesses and deficiencies in the public sector’s implementation
and delivery mechanisms. These might include a lack of skills or competences, inadequate
funding, poor communication and consultation, lack of commitment and persistence over
time, and lack of authority to achieve the right level of coordination. These are all very
important capabilities. However, the concept of wicked problems potentially adds another
layer of explanation and new research questions, focusing mainly on the understandings that
have shaped problem-identification and thus the frames for generating problem-solutions.
On this line of explanation, failures and unintended outcomes are likely to be endemic in
many complex areas of policy and program delivery, for several reasons:
1. The ‘problems’ are poorly identified and scoped.
2. The problems themselves may be constantly changing.
3. Solutions may be addressing the symptoms instead of underlying causes.
4. People may disagree so strongly that many solution-options are unworkable.
5. The knowledge base required for effective implementation may be weak, fragmented
or contested.
6. Some solutions may depend on achieving major shifts in attitudes and behaviours
(i.e. future changed conduct on the part of many citizens or stakeholders); but there
are insufficient incentives or points of leverage to ensure that such shifts are
If there is no single ‘root cause’ of complexity, uncertainty and disagreement, and therefore
no root cause of ‘wickedness’, it follows that there is no single best approach to tackling
such problems. If, for example, it is claimed that the fundamental cause of wicked problems
is lack of scientific knowledge (e.g. about climate change), this claim already implies a
solution more scientific research is needed to fill gaps, reduce uncertainty and provide the
base for clear and agreed solutions. On the other hand, if the fundamental problem is seen
to be divergence of viewpoints, the implied solution is to establish processes of participation,
debate and mediation that lead to a workable consensus. This analysis confirms the general
point, made by Rittel and Webber (1973) and Schon and Rein (1994), that problem-definition
tends to imply a preferred solution. Hence, some caution is required with all proposed
methods for addressing wicked problems, as they are all likely to be inadequate in various
What are some current examples of ‘wicked’ problems? A long list of complex and
intractable issues can be readily generated. It is useful to distinguish initially between
domestic policy issues and international issues. Domestic policy areas in Australia (and
similarly in the USA, Canada, etc) marked by wicked problems would include:
Child protection policy and service systems.
Self-harming (‘unhealthy’) behaviours (e.g. in relation to drugs, smoking, alcohol, junk
Urban transport planning and services.
Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage (in many related fields, such as education,
health, income, jobs, etc).
Sustainable use of natural resources and ecological assets (especially in the face of
population growth and climate change).
These are big issues, which involve many aspects and dimensions. One is the spatial scale
of issues and proposed solutions, ranging from very small localities, through sub-regional
areas and up to the national scale. The behavioural unit to be targeted by policies will likewise
range from individuals, households, neighbourhoods and suburbs through to larger regional
and nationwide scales. The inter-connections between these levels are also important to
At an international level, there are many policy areas marked by wicked problems, including:
Social development in post-conflict societies (e.g. international aid programs for
Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste).
Peace settlements in divided societies in the Middle East, and in the Balkan states.
International or global regimes for greenhouse gas reduction.
These examples, both domestic and international, show that problems are often ‘nested’
and interdependent. This feature raises great difficulties both for clear analysis and for
devising practical interventions to tackle the problems. Is it necessary to have a
comprehensive understanding before being able to provide sound analytical commentary or
being able to provide well-grounded recommendations for program improvements?
Political and Managerial Responses to Wicked Problems
Politicians are often keen to pursue ‘solutions’ even when the evidence is uncertain or when
the citizens disagree on key issues. They will not wait for all uncertainty to subside before
they choose to act. Such politicians generally like to be seen as ‘decisive’, by taking action
to address issues. Sometimes this preference is driven by ideological zeal. However, others
take a more cautious and conservative approach, unwilling to over-commit their
governments to finding a solution to intractable issues. In practice, the majority of politicians
tend to focus on highly visible or tangible pieces of the puzzle, rather than insisting on a
comprehensive approach to issues. This preference is reinforced by administrative and
budgeting processes which are predisposed towards tangible outputs and the measurement
of incremental changes. Political and financial accountability systems encourage the
specification of discrete and finite items rather than large amorphous interlinked outputs.
Hence, an incremental approach often prevails, even while sometimes acknowledging that
many small steps are needed towards a larger end-goal. Politicians have a fondness for
distributing cheques, unveiling plaques, and cutting ribbons. Funding specific facilities (e.g.
roads, buildings) or specific services (e.g. extra nurses or police in remote locations) is more
attractive for most Ministers than the making of vague promises to reduce poverty or
overcome disadvantage. A focus on providing specific facilities and services becomes
associated with a particular skill-set within the public bureaucracy, highlighting skills in project
management rather than strategic leadership and policy innovation. This incremental focus
on ‘cherry-picking’ of problems may be seen as a useful political tactic for ‘coping’ with
complex wicked problems deal with manageable elements today, while recognising that
there will be other aspects to tackle tomorrow. However, the short-term tactics may deliver
little in the longer term unless other actions are being taken, including the collection of
baseline data about the nature of the issues and evaluation data about the impacts of current
and previous interventions.
Public management research, taking some cues from public management practice, has
begun to address not only the conceptual difficulties but also the practical challenges of
tackling ‘wicked problems’ and complex uncertainties. Three relevant managerial trends
attracting attention in recent decades have been new public management (NPM), cross-
agency coordination, and more inclusive approaches to stakeholder engagement. Firstly,
NPM has sought systematic improvements in the efficiency of public sector agencies and
hence in their capacity to improve services (McLaughlin et al 2002). NPM has allowed some
re-thinking of traditional ways to define program goals and instruments, with potential gains
in resource efficiency and program effectiveness. Moreover, risk-management techniques
have been used to assess and mitigate a range of risks to institutional capability and program
implementation, for example, in relation to agencies’ own resources, skills and capabilities,
and also in relation to external threats to service delivery (Drennan and McConnell 2007).
Secondly, cross-agency coordination has been highlighted as a higher priority for
government, as more issues seem to require a connected approach across portfolios within
each jurisdiction and across levels of government (Management Advisory Committee 2004).
Coordination among public agencies (e.g. across portfolios for education, health, justice,
community development) is just as important as coordination between the government
sector and business and community sector organisations. Thirdly, a number of complex
issues have required closer consultation and engagement with non-government
stakeholders, with more collaborative and networked approaches being trialled (Roberts
2000, Mandell 2001, Goldsmith and Eggers 2004).
In the era of complex and intensively negotiated ‘wicked’ issues, the repertoire of strategies
required for senior public managers is constantly being extended. A recent Australian
Government discussion paper on wicked or intractable problems (APSC 2007) suggests that
the general aim of government when dealing with intractable problems should be to achieve
‘sustained behavioural change’ through ‘collaboration’ as a response to ‘social complexity’.
The report outlines several techniques that could be employed, emphasising that new
processes and thinking are required. For example (APSC 2007: 35-6):
The ability to work across agency boundaries as wicked problems do not conform
to the constraints of organisations there is a need to work across agency boundaries.
Increasing understanding and stimulating a debate on the appropriate accountability
framework existing frameworks may constrain attempts to resolve wicked problems.
Effectively engaging stakeholders and citizens in understanding the problem and in
identifying possible solutions there is a need to understand the full dimensions of
each situation through engaging with relevant stakeholders. Behavioural changes,
the report suggests, are more likely if there is a full understanding of the issues by
Additional core skills develop skills in communication, big picture thinking and
influencing skills and the ability to work cooperatively.
A better understanding of behavioural change by policy makers although the
traditional ways by which governments change citizens’ behaviour will still be
important (e.g. legislation, regulation, penalties, taxes and subsidies), such practices
may need to be supplemented with other behaviour-changing tools that better
engage people in cooperative behavioural change.
A comprehensive focus and/or strategy as wicked problems have multiple causes
they require sustained effort and resources.
Tolerating uncertainty and accepting the need for a long-term focus solutions to
wicked problems are provisional and uncertain, and this fact needs to be accepted
by public managers and Ministers. There are no quick fixes and solutions may need
further policy change or adjustment.
These suggestions indirectly point to the enormity of the challenge for the public sector in an
age of complex and intractable problems. The discussion paper points to the need for major
cultural and operational changes in the way senior managers and political leaders undertake
their work, and the ways in which agencies relate to stakeholders and the wider community.
It is clear that management education would need to be adjusted accordingly. However it is
not at all clear that governments have the will or the capacity to make the necessary
changes, including a whole-hearted commitment to stakeholder inclusion at the heart of
policy development.
Two Examples of Wicked Problems
To illustrate the concept of wicked problems, some very brief comments are made below on
two current problems attracting major attention and debate within Australia:
Attempts to assess the causes and possible solutions to Indigenous disadvantage,
understood here as a linked series of economic, social and cultural issues at national
and state levels.
Policy responses to climate change, understood here as a linked series of
‘sustainable development’ issues encompassing both national and state politics.
Indigenous Disadvantage
The well-being of Indigenous Australians represents perhaps the most complex series of
inter-connected issues in domestic public policy. The issues pertain to every level of
government in the federation, all domains of human services, cultural diversity issues, and
urban/rural/remote geographies. After many decades of new programs and models for
service delivery, and extensive research on the nature and extent of disadvantage
summarised by the Productivity Commission (2003 and 2007) there is great frustration
concerning persistent poor outcomes for Indigenous people, both in rural and urban
communities. The documentation of disadvantage is now considerable, and has been
enormously important in galvanising political attention. Governments have made political
commitments to ‘closing the gap’, and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has
adopted the Productivity Commission’s reporting framework on Indigenous disadvantage
indicators. But the evidence concerning inequalities does not directly leverage reliable
knowledge about the most appropriate policy responses.
From a ‘knowledge’ viewpoint, understanding the multiple dimensions, and multiple causes,
of complex problems is a foundation for generating evidence-informed views about the key
points of leverage to drive improvements. The general research literature on developmental
well-being points to the reinforcement effect of multiple and inter-generational disadvantage,
whereby a downward spiral may be generated that is very difficult to transform (e.g. Silburn
et al 2006, Hunter 2007a). In the face of complex multiple disadvantage, it is important to
develop clarity about which factors can leverage the most important benefits. Opinions
diverge on this key point.
Some recent writers have urged that the key for reversing these massive inequalities is to
accelerate Indigenous participation in the mainstream economy, with its attendant
requirements of education and training in relevant skills (Hughes 2007). This would entail
recognition that many remote communities could not remain viable as locations where
residents could expect to access the full range of economic services and publicly-funded
social support services. Indigenous people would need to accept greater mobility to access
the real economy and ancillary services. According to Johns (2008), the impasse concerning
Indigenous inequality has arisen primarily from the unwillingness of political leaders to accept
a viable economic strategy for Indigenous communities a higher level of economic
integration is necessary, according to Hughes (2007) and Johns (2008), if Indigenous well-
being is to be advanced. Implicitly the ‘wicked’ features of the policy challenge are dissolved
by claiming that a remedy is available to overcome the ‘confusions’ of previous approaches
based on self-determination and welfarism.
Other writers, equally anxious for rapid improvement in Indigenous well-being, regard this
economistic interpretation as one-sided in its lack of attention to social and cultural issues
and its dismissal of stakeholder viewpoints. Breaking with the past will always mean that
some viewpoints will be over-ridden, but this should only occur after thorough dialogue with
Indigenous stakeholders to promote understanding and support. Noel Pearson and the
Cape York Institute have developed a strong critique of ‘welfarism’ as encouraging passivity
and anti-social behaviour rather than self-management, cultural strength, and skills for the
‘real world’. A range of social, economic and cultural programs have been recommended
including the conditionality of welfare payments in order to provide incentives for positive
parenting and the acquisition of work skills (Cape York Institute 2007). This thinking, with its
high focus on education and community safety, has been influential with the Commonwealth
Government and with some states, especially Queensland.
An important attempt to outline a ‘program logic’ underlying the necessary process of policy
change is the Productivity Commission’s framework, linking desired outcomes for individual
and family well-being (e.g. safety, health, skills, etc) with headline indicators for the ongoing
monitoring of these outcome areas. These social and economic indicators have been
informed by a broad social-science research base. Most critically, the schema identifies
seven key areas for strategic action (see Figure 2). These areas range across child
development, education, health, community functioning, and employment issues. These
seven strategic areas are described as the key levers for delivering benefits for Indigenous
Australians, and are therefore important in shaping policy thinking for all governments in the
context of COAG. While a multi-layered approach seems highly desirable, and all these
strategic areas are arguably very important, the wide-ranging nature of the schema raises
some questions about generalisation across different circumstances, the interaction patterns
between the variables, and the basis for targeted policy priorities in specific locations.
Figure 2: “Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage” Framework
Headline indicators
Life expectancy Labour force participation and Substantiated child abuse and
Disability and chronic disease unemployment neglect
Years 10 and 12 retention and Household and individual Deaths from homicide and
attainment income hospitalisations for assault
Post secondary education Home ownership Family and community violence
Participation and attainment Suicide and self-harm Imprisonment and juvenile
detention rates
Strategic areas for action
Source: Productivity Commission (2007).
Responsibility for outcomes has long been dispersed and fragmented across governments,
leading to the COAG decision by government leaders in 2002 to jointly monitor progress in
overcoming the major gaps in quality of life, health and education of Indigenous Australians.
Despite the COAG framework, there remains considerable ambiguity at the political and
policy levels about where responsibilities lie for funding and coordination. State and
Commonwealth initiatives are both important, and there are risks that achievements in one
area might be undermined by poor progress in others. Many policy initiatives have been
launched in recent decades on specific issues such as healthcare, schooling, employment,
housing, drug abuse, child protection, etc. There has been a massive discontinuity and
reinvention of programs, as the Commonwealth and state governments have wrestled with
program delivery and a variety of policy governance models (Hunter 2007b). These have
Safe, healthy and supportive
family environments with
strong communities and
cultural identity
Positive child development
and prevention of violence
crime and self-harm
Improved wealth creation and
economic sustainability for
individuals, families and
Early child
and growth
(prenatal to
age 3
Early school
(preschool to
year 3
childhood and
transition to
use and
and resilient
families and
ranged from mainstream bureaucratic programs through to experiments in partial self-
determination by land councils and local communities. While decision-makers now have
better information about problems, knowledge about how to tackle service delivery in a more
devolved and partly-collaborative context is sparse. Rigorous ‘testing’ of alternative delivery
models (e.g. in randomised controlled trials) across different communities has not been
practicable, and the results of some pilot schemes have not been released. Part of the
challenge for government has been to better coordinate and integrate its own disparate
agencies and activities (Hunt 2007).
Underlying the divergent approaches to addressing Indigenous disadvantage are major
conceptual differences concerning mainstream services versus self-determined local
services, the role of ‘welfare’ payments in communities where paid employment
opportunities are rare, respect for cultural heritage, and the economic viability of remote
communities where costs are high and services difficult to deliver. The policy debate remains
highly polarised between market-based and rights-based approaches. At one end of the
spectrum, some critics have argued that overcoming inequality requires integration into the
mainstream economy (with requisite employment skills and moving to locations where full-
time work and social services are available). At the other end of the debate, some insist that
respect for cultural differences and traditional ties to country are fundamental to the wellbeing
of most Indigenous people, and that insistence on economic assimilation implies cultural
assimilation. Neither of these value-based positions can be either validated or disconfirmed
by progress reports under the COAG framework for monitoring disadvantage. We are a long
way from a consensual approach about the problems, the responsibilities and the solutions.
Responding to Climate Change
The debate in Australia on climate change has been strongly contested over many years.
There was a long struggle before ‘ecologically sustainable development’ was recognised as
a strategic framework by governments in Australia (adopted at the December 1992 meeting
of COAG, together with a brief National Greenhouse Response Strategy). The ‘greenhouse’
(or climate change) challenge has always been the most difficult and contentious theme in
the sustainability debate in Australia exacerbated by the special standing of the coal industry
(Lowe 1994, Taplin 1994). While these early frameworks were developed through an
extended process of bargained agreement among stakeholders, the agreed actions were
not onerous (e.g. grants programs, research projects, education). Moreover, the
implementation process allowed for many reinterpretations and revisions of policy priorities
at both the Commonwealth and state levels. The 1998 National Greenhouse Strategy
remained a bland document which required little change in behaviour by corporations or
citizens, and emphasised efficiency in resource use rather than structural change. The
Howard Government produced a framework of adaptation responses to climate change
(Australian Government 2007), but failed to encourage large firms to anticipate the need for
major changes in technologies and in carbon pricing.
The science concerning climate change has partly focused on forecasting changes/variability
in climatic conditions, at both a global and regional scales; and partly focused on identifying the
specific human-induced contributions to rapid changes (e.g. the impacts of industrialisation on
atmosphere and thus on temperature). Both the scientific inquiry process and the policy
implications are massively complex and difficult to manage. This has elevated the role of
international bodies in brokering an ongoing expert review of scientific evidence (the IPCC
was established in 1988) and in brokering an international treaty (the Rio Framework
Convention followed by the Kyoto Protocol), thus creating the basis for international dialogue
and future regulatory arrangements. In Australia, the unwillingness of the Howard
Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol during its term of office from 1996 to 2007 became
a political symbol of fundamental differences. The key dimensions of debate have included
clarifying the nature and urgency of the problem, determining the most cost-effective actions
for emissions reduction, allocating responsibilities for effective action, and the distribution of
cost burdens and possible compensation.
There are several reasons why climate change policy is a ‘wicked problem’. Firstly, it is actually
a series of linked problems, none of which can be resolved in isolation. Secondly, the short-
term and long-term calculations of impacts, costs, and benefits of interventions, are highly
variable. Thirdly, the impacts are global, national, regional and local simultaneously. This
makes the understanding of impacts, and the choice of useful adaptive behaviours, very
complicated. Fourthly, in relation to the science or knowledge base, the extent of climate
change, and especially the human contribution to the causal chain, has been hotly contested,
with scepticism being fanned by some industry sectors. However, there has recently been a
growing consensus (IPCC 2007; Stern 2006) that has finally convinced large sections of
industry to accept the need for major changes. Fifthly, the allocation of responsibility to levels
of government, to corporations, to citizens for changing their behaviours and investment
decisions is inherently difficult. This is true both within each country (industries, localities) and
across groups of countries (developed, developing, small, large, etc). Sixthly, equity issues
around the pattern of burden-sharing and the necessary pace of change are significant.
Seventhly, the choice of instruments is contentious what forms of regulatory mandate and
which market-based mechanisms are most likely to be not only effective but also politically
acceptable? Finally, there is a serious debate about the distinctive or separate interests of
Australia vis-à-vis other nations. Australia’s global role is contested both within this country
and internationally should Australia play a ‘leadership’ role by requiring and encouraging
large investment in best-practice technologies, or should Australia ‘hide’ behind other nations
by agreeing only to incremental changes that minimise adjustment costs in the short term?
The politics of decision-making and community engagement on these issues in Australia has
shifted recently with a change in federal government and a major inquiry into an effective
emissions trading scheme (Garnaut 2008). But the hard decisions on greenhouse gas
reduction strategies, using a range of instruments to meet clear targets, will be part of the
political and economic landscape for the foreseeable future. In this sense, the wicked
problems are managed, debated and constantly renegotiated rather than solved.
Policy development occurs across a range of contexts, from the settled routines of
‘business-as-usual’ through to ‘crisis management’. Under conditions of crisis, with strong
pressure for immediate action, the need for conspicuous action may tend to overwhelm the
opportunity for new thinking. Rather than a positive and thoughtful ‘paradigm shift’, there is
a significant likelihood of reinforcing past practices, e.g. ‘group-think’ about tactical
responses and use of top-down styles of emergency coordination (Boin et al 2005: 47).
Institutional learning, addressing the long-term causes of the problems, tends to occur if
at all only when the immediate pressures have been alleviated.
Public managers are considering a range of strategies to increase public sector capacity and
effectiveness for dealing with complex and intractable problems. Both the traditional
bureaucratic focus on authoritative processes to resolve issues, and the modern NPM focus
on greater efficiency in achieving outputs, have been widely used. Each of these has
important limitations (Head and Alford 2008) when dealing with problem-complexity and
attempting to manage issues that are marked by divergent expectations. In some
circumstances, not all leaders wish to adopt a problem-solving stance, with attendant risks
of failure. Some prefer to steer towards calmer waters rather than tackle the wild rivers. In
one sense, this is simply to recognise two ongoing truths of public policy the inherently
political nature of decision-making, and the impossibility of resolving all problems through
government activity.
The three most widely recommended approaches to wicked problems better knowledge,
better consultation, and better use of third-party partners –deserve closer attention in future
research. Investment in more research to address gaps in knowledge is necessary, especially
in relation to understanding causal links; since better knowledge can contribute both to
‘evidence-informed’ policy (Head 2008) and to good processes for increasing the scope of
consensus. Such knowledge should address institutional and social structures, processes
and relationships as well as knowledge about attitudes, values and cultural expectations.
Knowledge needs to be more than the documentation of deficiencies (which might provide
an impetus towards problem attention). The emphasis needs to shift towards developing and
disseminating knowledge about innovative approaches with strong prospects of success.
Program evaluations and pilot schemes that assess the effectiveness of current and previous
interventions could be very useful sources of applied knowledge, providing that key decision-
makers are willing and able to learn from experience and that evaluation reports are publicly
released (Head and Stewart 2007). However, ‘more’ knowledge, even if well targeted, is
never sufficient to manage the politics of complexity.
The widely recommended strategy of more effective consultation and closer ‘collaboration’
among stakeholders as a process solution is also important (Roberts 2000; Mandell 2001;
Management Advisory Committee 2004; Goldsmith and Eggers 2004; and APSC 2007). It
is essential that consultation be regarded as an ongoing process rather than a one-off event.
But rigorous consultation and dialogue might not be sufficient to achieve progress in tackling
some intractable problems that require good social analysis as well as improved consensus-
formation and exchange of information among stakeholders. Sometimes the ‘best’ policy
strategies may require very detailed analyses of complex causality, in order to gain a clearer
picture of how processes and proposed interventions are inter-linked. This understanding
could be a useful precursor to stakeholder dialogues.
There is increasing reliance on third parties (e.g. NGOs and corporations) to develop programs
to address ‘difficult’ and dependent groups, especially in the human services. There is an
assumption that outsourcing service delivery (‘contestability’) will tap into innovative and cost-
effective ideas and new service delivery skills. However, the quality and shaping of such
programs depend largely on public sector budget models and program design. Thus,
innovation is constrained by the prescription of specific ‘funded outputs’ for clients, service
standards for many areas, and workforce quality issues.
In conclusion, the fundamental challenge for researchers is to develop new thinking about the
multiple causes of problems, opening up new insights about the multiple pathways and levels
required for better solutions, and gaining broad stakeholder acceptance of shared strategies
and processes. (See, for example, the analytical and conceptual work leading up to pilot
programs in developmental and early intervention: Developmental Crime Prevention
Consortium 1999; Homel et al 2006.) New strategic thinking needs to be championed within
the public sector. This requires organisational learning and cultural change perhaps a bridge
too far for most government agencies, which are obliged to expend almost all their energy on
immediate tasks to ensure delivery of their budgeted outputs. The public agencies cannot be
expected to move to a different paradigm without the insight, support and long-term
commitment of political leaders. It is too easy to blame the risk-averse organisational culture
of public agencies for our lack of innovation. Public managers need to be encouraged by far-
sighted political leaders who are capable of working effectively with the business and
community sectors in developing new approaches to major issues.
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... Wicked problems include some of humanity's most relevant and pressing challenges, such as climate change (Levin et al., 2012) and peace settlements (Head, 2008). The term wicked problem was coined by Horst W. J. Rittel and described as a "class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision-makers with conflicting values, and where ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing" (Churchmann, 1967, p. 141). ...
... Even though multiple, slightly different definitions of the term wicked problem have evolved over the years, the ten properties originally outlined by Rittel (1972) and Rittel and Webber (1973) still guide the understanding of wicked problems. Wicked problems are problems that are highly complex, uncertain, and the important stakeholders have divergent and fragmented viewpoints, values, and intentions (Head, 2008). This characterization means that extreme complexity alone does not make a problem a wicked problem, nor does high uncertainty or disagreement among stakeholders. ...
... All these activities are essentially different types of communication, focusing on sharing and commenting on each other's ideas. Similarly, collaboration is viewed as a core element in addressing wicked problems (Camillus, 2008;Head, 2008;Xiang, 2013;Head & Alford, 2015;Duckett et al., 2016;Head & Xiang, 2016;Tietjen & Jørgensen, 2016). The literature suggests participants must share their opinions (Rittel, 1972;Camillus, 2008;Malone et al., 2010;Innes & Booher, 2016;Pretorius, 2017), knowledge (Head & Xiang, 2016), as well as subjective judgment (Rittel & Webber, 1973). ...
Ill-defined and complex problems that affect multiple stakeholders with potentially conflicting perspectives are often referred to as wicked problems. The utilization of collective intelligence (CI) via web-based platforms is a promising approach for addressing such wicked problems. The management of these information systems would benefit from evidence-based decision support regarding facilitation and improvement efforts. However, to date, there is no suitable model to guide such efforts. Existing approaches address specific applications or cover certain assessment areas but do not provide a holistic perspective. Meanwhile, research offers substantial insights into best practices for addressing wicked problems and running CI applications. This paper develops an assessment model comprising five central success dimensions for information systems that address wicked problems. Their subdimensions and associated measurement metrics allow for evidence-driven facilitation and improvement of CI applications for wicked problems. Apart from the model’s capability to improve future runs and processes, it also offers the potential to provide immediate insights for facilitation efforts during runtime. The model was validated with a platform dealing with the assessment of risks presented by global climate change. This evaluation generated strong evidence for the model’s applicability and usefulness.
... Categorising the 10 attributes into ontological claims, epistemological claims and methodological claims Catron (1981) Defining characteristics: uncertainty-complexity-divergence Head (2008), Newman and Head (2017) Categorising the 10 attributes into non-resolvability, multi-actor environments, and problem definition Danken, Dribbisch, and Lange (2016) 5-point-frame Attributes: goals, uncertainty, variables, connections, dynamics (congruent with five-dimensional operationalisations of complex problems in psychology) Kirschke et al. (2019) 6-point-frame Aggregation of attributes: You will not understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. ...
... Second, the inherent uncertainty and ambiguity of wicked problems present significant challenges for educators. The flux of available information, coupled with the range of interpretations or perspectives applicable to these problems [27][28][29], complicates the task of offering students a concise, definitive understanding. This complexity becomes even more apparent when addressing a 'wicked' subject like climate change, as traditional teaching methods that depend on the dissemination of objective, unambiguous information prove insufficient in this context [30,31]. ...
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The increasing prevalence of wicked problems, such as climate change, requires a transformation in education that equips students with the skills, competencies and knowledge to address these complex challenges. Wicked problems are characterised by their incomplete, contradictory, and ever-changing requirements, rendering them difficult to resolve due to intricate interdependencies. Nexus thinking offers a valuable approach to these problems, as it emphasises the interconnectedness of various systems, fostering a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges at hand. In this paper, we propose the use of Climate, Land, Energy, and Water (CLEWs) modelling as an innovative pedagogical strategy tool to cultivate nexus thinking among students. Building upon the pioneering CLEWs pedagogical work of Shivakumar et al., in their ‘Introduction to CLEWs’ Open Learn course, we demonstrate how this approach can be utilised in a Higher Education (HE) setting in the form of a Masters’ module for geography students.
... Organizational scholars have, over the years, used different concepts to characterize disruptive social phenomena with different degrees of adversity, novelty and impact. Public policy scholars have advanced the notion of complex and inter-related 'wicked' problems for which there is no apparent solution, also given that it is not entirely clear what the diagnosis or causes are (Head, 2008). When confronted with such ill-defined situations laden with multiple value judgements, policy makers and managers alike are expected to resort to long-term monitoring and evaluation alongside multiple stakeholder collaboration. ...
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COVID-19 has provided a historical opportunity to test the resilient nature of higher education (HE) systems and institutions (HEIs) around the world. This at a time when the sector experiences profound structural changes, resulting from major societal transformations such as urbanization, digitalization, de-globalization, political polarization and democratic decline; growing social and economic inequality; demographic decline and, chief amongst all the ‘grand challenges’, climate change and the quest for a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive world economy and society. This chapter provides a conceptual and empirical backdrop for mapping out the types of responses around the globe to the challenges and strategic opportunities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, so as to help unpack the effects such responses are likely to have on the institutional fabric of HE. In so doing, it is critical to understand how local actors/stakeholders at different levels of analysis (from policy makers to university managers to academics) make sense of (or enact upon) the changing external environment.
... Decision-makers are increasingly struggling with challenges that affect society and the environment (Schot and Steinmueller, 2018). These challenges frequently fall into the category of wicked problems because they are characterized by inherent complexity and uncertainty, which contribute to their contested nature (Head, 2008;Rittel and Webber, 1973). More specifically, contestation arises as actors embody fundamentally conflicting ideas about the nature of the problems and their required solutions (Head, 2019;Kuhlmann and Rip, 2018). ...
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In shaping collective responses to societal challenges, we currently lack an understanding of how to grasp and navigate conflicting ideas on societal problems and potential solutions. The problem-solution space is an increasingly popular framework for conceptualizing the extent to which problem-oriented and solution-oriented views are divergent. However, this reflexive framework needs an operationalization to become useful in practice. We contribute to this debate by demonstrating how Q-methodology can be used to systematically identify, describe, and compare collectively held visions in relation to problems and solutions. We use the case of Dutch circular construction, and identify three conflicting imaginaries that inform us about disagreement and common ground. We conclude by discussing how policymakers can use different approaches to navigate contestation, presumably mobilizing actors for a collective response.
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Karmaşık bir sorun, içerisinde birden çok sebep barındırdığından dolayı çok boyutlu ele alınmalıdır. Bu sorunların kendileri çözülemediği takdirde farklı sorunlara sebebiyet verebileceği gibi, sığ bir bakış açısıyla değerlendirildiğinde domino taşı etkisi yaparak farklı sorunların ortaya çıkmasına sebep olabilirler. Ötenazi de sonuçları ve kamu değeri niteliğindeki olgularla ilişkisi düşünüldüğünde karmaşık bir sorun olarak görülebilir. Kamu değeri niteliğindeki bu olgular, ötenazi kabul görsün ya da görmesin, her iki durumda da toplumsal diğer hususlardaki önemleri düşünüldüğünde, hassasiyetle ele alınmalıdır. Halihazırda ötenazi konusunun kendi tartışılır bir konumda iken; uygulanması muhtemel kamu politikaları sonucunda, ötenaziyi tartışmalı hale getiren kamu değeri niteliğindeki olguların zarar görmesi, bu olgular ile bağlantılı olan farklı konulara da sirayet edebilecek ve ortaya birbirini tetikleyen sorunların çıktığı, literatürde karmaşık sorunlar olarak ifade bulan durum ile karşılaşılacaktır. A wicked problem should be handled with the recognition of its multidimensional nature, because such problems contain multiple causes. If these problems cannot be solved, they may cause more problems. Therefore, when assessed from a limited perspective, these problems may cause subsequent problems by creating a domino effect. By considering its consequences and connection to phenomena of public values, euthanasia can also be seen as a wicked issue. Given their importance to other social issues, those facts carrying public values must be treated delicately in both cases, whether euthanasia is accepted or not. The subject of euthanasia itself is debatable. In this context, as a result of the public policies that are likely to be implemented, those facts carrying the characteristics of public values that make euthanasia controversial will suffer. With the emergence of problems that can spread to different issues related to these phenomena and trigger new problems, this situation will encounter wicked problems as defined in the literature.
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Identifies significant problems with childcare provision in Australia, including a lack of focus on child development and combating exclusion. Fragmented Commonwealth and State roles including in oversight of quality. Need for greater attention to, and investment in, evidence base.
Importance: Wicked problems are those that are messy and complex and have no obvious solution. Occupational therapists and their clients encounter wicked problems in all areas of practice, and therefore it is essential that they know how to address them. Objective: To identify the key constructs involved in addressing wicked problems, discover considerations for occupational therapists, and develop a conceptual model that supports how to address these problems. Design: This study had a critical review design and focused on literature from sectors such as health care, social services, policy, business, management, and leadership. It followed a traditional critical review process and extracted records from Scopus, CINAHL and Ovid databases. Results: A total of 36 articles were included in the review. The results indicated that, to address wicked problems, one must first identify the problem as wicked. The key constructs identified in the literature include collaboration, leadership, perspectives, and innovation, with collaboration and leadership as the most prominent constructs. Subthemes include interdisciplinary teams and diverse perspectives, visualizing interdependencies, team communication, leadership style, leadership communication, and shared vision. Conclusions and relevance: The key constructs identified in this review are interconnected and imperative when addressing wicked problems as depicted in the new Addressing Wicked Problems conceptual model. Occupational therapists are well suited to extend between the traditional role and be key stakeholders in addressing wicked problems by using their leadership and collaboration skills and attitudes. What This Article Adds: Collaboration, leadership, perspective, and innovation are the key constructs for addressing wicked problems. The Addressing Wicked Problems conceptual model highlights the interconnectedness of these constructs.
A particular feature of modern, post-industrial societies is their growing awareness of risk and crisis management. This book's main theme is therefore the context, concepts and practice of risk and crisis management in the public sector in Western, notably European, and Asia Pacific countries. Relating to extraordinary phenomena, the term 'risk and crisis management', covers such events and incidents as: • natural catastrophes (earthquakes, hurricanes and floods) • terrorist attacks (Bali, New York, Madrid) • corporate failures (HIH, Enron, WorldCom) • threats to human and animal welfare (SARS, Foot and Mouth, BSE) • critical incidents (bushfires, rail crashes, aviation accidents, mass shootings) • environmental degradation (rain forests, ozone layer, oil spills) • policy failures (UK Poll Tax, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission, public-private partnerships).
Greenhouse-induced climatic change is an extremely complex global problem with political, economic, social, cultural, technological and environmental challenges. Development of an international environmental regime for climate change is still in an embryonic state with a process-oriented Framework Convention with few commitments having been signed by 156 states including Australia at United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. Australia ratified the convention on 31 December 1992 being the eighth nation to do so. The convention came into force 90 days after 50 nations ratified it in March 1994. As a developed country party to the convention, Australia is expected to aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 and to report on progress towards such stabilisation in the meantime. This article examines Australian policy development to date, including the National Greenhouse Response Strategy released in December 1992, and discusses the apparent barriers to achieving the convention's stabilisation goal for Australia. It is argued that factors including scientific uncertainty, the long-term policy horizon of decades and political will, together with Australia's economic dependence on the energy sector, could result in greenhouse policy inertia during the remainder of the 1990s. For the future, it is recommended that more specific greenhouse mitigation and adaptation policy guidelines, including priorities for implementation for the 1990s, should be developed to prevent policy inertia.
This paper takes u p the debate kindled by Bo yd Hunter in 'Conspicuous Compassion and Wicked Pr oblems' (2007). The present paper's contention is that just as unemployment is a 'matter of choice' — in the words of Treasury Secretary Ted Ev ans in 1993 — so too is Aboriginal despair. In the case of Aborigines, there is a price to pay for an alleviation of that despair; a change in behaviour. But changing behaviour — in other words, becoming less 'cultural' and less 'authentic' as an Aboriginal — has until recently been ruled out of the policy lexicon. For this reason many Aboriginal people, especially those locked out of the economy and sitting in dysfunctional communities, have paid a price because policy-makers have restricted their choices to a sub-set of those available to other Australians.
In today's complex world, companies often find themselves facing confounding strategy problems. These issues are not just tough or persistent; they're "wicked" - a label used by urban planners for problems that cannot be definitively resolved. Poverty and terrorism are classic examples. A wicked problem has innumerable causes, morphs constantly, and has no correct answer. It can be tamed, however, with the right approach. In this article, Camillus, a professor at the Katz Graduate School of Business, explains how executives can tell if they're dealing with a wicked strategy problem. In a 15-year study involving 22 companies, he identified five key criteria. If a problem involves many stakeholders with conflicting priorities; if its roots are tangled; if it changes with every attempt to address it; if you've never faced it before; and if there's no way to evaluate whether a remedy will work, chances are good that it's wicked. According to the author, the need for faster growth is, in all likelihood, a wicked issue for Wal-Mart. Traditional linear processes - identifying the issue, gathering data, studying all the options, choosing one strategy - don't work with wicked problems. They instead demand social processes that constantly engage stakeholders, explore related issues, reevaluate the problem's definition, and reconsider the assumptions of stakeholders. A strong corporate identity is essential: It serves as a rudder that helps the enterprise navigate a sea of choices. Because it's impossible to tell which options are appropriate, executives should stop analyzing them and start experimenting with actions. Eventually they will make progress by muddling through. Envisioning possible futures and identifying moves that will realize the one the company hopes for will uncover promising remedies. That's how PPG Industries, a 100-year-old manufacturer, has successfully coped with its wicked strategy issues.