Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wicked Problems

Wicked Problems have incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements; and solutions to them are often difficult to recognize as such because of complex interdependencies. Rittel and Webber stated that while attempting to solve a wicked problem, the solution of one of its aspects may reveal or create other, even more complex problems.

Addressing or trying to define the elements of a wicked problem could be one of the potential uses of the semantic framework.

Specific examples of wicked Problems / social messes include issues such as global climate change, healthcare in the United States and elsewhere, the AIDS epidemic and perhaps other emerging diseases, pandemic influenza, international drug trafficking, homeland security, and nuclear energy and waste.

Rittel and Webber's (1973) formulation of wicked problems[2] specifies ten characteristics, perhaps best considered in the context of social policy planning. According to Ritchey (2007)[3], the ten characteristics are:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may 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. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
The semantic framework will not in itself solve a wicked problem. It will instead define each of the elements of a wicked problem. How those definitions are developed, and how to get people to agree to the definitions will all continue to remain problems and would still require the use of the frameworks like "Issues Based Information System" (IBIS). A Semantic framework could form the underlying framework for using an IBIS-type system.

I will continue to explore what software tools exist to document wicked problems and whether a basic semantic framework can be developed using a combination of existing tools and frameworks.

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