Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to resolve and address most wicked problems. Some of us specialize in using modelling and a variety of techniques to address 'wicked' problems and complex socio-technical problems involving combinations of people and technology acting together. 'Wicked' situations and problems cannot be resolved by design and research tools that aim to identify a fixed 'best' solution. This is why 'wicked' and complex socio-technical problems are often regarded as difficult/impossible to address by designers working conventionally. Instead of fixed outcomes, the outcomes and contexts of so called 'wicked problems' change continually and that provides both the difficulty and their charm and usefulness.
Core assumptions for addressing wicked problems are that wicked problems always involve:
- Multiple feedback loops in which different factors act on each other in ways that eventually change themselves as well
- There are delays between causes of changes and outcomes and these can be variable
- The situation dynamically changes in many ways over time, some fast some slow and not necessarily consistently.
- The boundaries of the situation can change
- Individuals and groups can wield power in ways that change how the situation operates and do this in different ways at different times
- Predicting the dynamic behaviour of the outcomes is essential
- The situation is influenced by a variety of contextual issues that also change over time and which the complex situation can also influence
- Ownership and control of different aspects of the 'wicked' or complex socio-technical situation may change
Our approach involves, any of the following as appropriate:
- Initial brief identification
- Literature review to identify existing knowledge
- Participatory consultation with stakeholders and experts to gather information via a variety of approaches including soft systems methodology methods, focus groups, public consultation meetings.
- Gathering of physical data if necessary.
- Preliminary mapping of 'wicked' situation - using a variety of methods including causal loop diagrams, state space diagrams, morphological mapping, layered function-process-need diagrams, dimensional analysis and social equivalents etc
- Identification of boundaries and boundary conditions as appropriate (linear programming, variety analysis, state space analysis, functional bounding,
- Review of preliminary mapping and boundary issues by reference group of stakeholders and experts and revision as necessary.
- Preliminary modelling. typically, this involves developing a testable dynamic model of the system using Vensim, Powersim or similar software, or a physical dynamic model.
- Reviewing and calibrating preliminary dynamic model via reference group and existing historic data
- Constructing and testing a practical representative dynamic model
- Collaborating with stakeholders to use the dynamic model to identify the best ways of addressing the wicked problem by reviewing the dynamic outcomes that result from the different strategies and approaches that are tried.