January 30, 2017

Discussion Session 1.30.2017 – Wicked Problems

How would you, as designers, facilitate conversation around wicked problems with individuals who are not familiar with the term? Do they have their own term for “wicked problems”?

Talk to one person outside of the design school (mom, friend, etc.) and get their perspective on this topic to help answer the question. Please feel free to invite them to our online conversation.

Discussion Leaders: Theora Kvitka, Mackenzie Cherban, Ashley Varrato, Silvia Mata–Marin

34 Comments
  1. Hey guys – Great class yesterday! I really enjoyed participating in the exercise and discussion. I wanted to share the project I mentioned around gentrification and cupcake shops as an indicator of the phenomenon. http://www.ediblegeography.com/cupcakegentrification/

  2. Today, I found myself explaining my Transition Design class to my Mother in Law, Shawna. She often asks what projects I’m working on at school, and my responses usually surprise her. Today, she said “you’re doing a project on crime in Pittsburgh? I had no idea designers did stuff like that!” I found myself explaining the concept of Transition Design to her, and in this process we ended up discussing wicked problems.

    Although Shawna is not familiar with the concept of wicked problems, discussing them with her wasn’t particularly hard to do. I don’t think it’s hard to discuss ‘wicked problems’ with the average person. Regardless of who you are, you have probably faced frustrating, seemingly unsolvable problems in your life. Structural and societal problems are discussed in the news and on social media every day.

    Rather, I think it’s harder to discuss the idea that wicked problems are actually solvable with people. Just as wicked problems are ingrained in our society, so are our perceptions of those problems. In our conversation, I found us coming back to the question: “But does it work?” In order for our strategies towards wicked problems to take effect, we need to first foster confidence in the process itself through deep, meaningful conversations with people around us.

    • Thanks, Vicky, for those comments! I agree, it’s all too easy to feel hopeless or frustrated in the face of these issues, and trying to have conversations can sometimes instead devolve into mutual commiserating. You are so right – we must continue to have meaningful conversations, that’s the only way that we can build confidence and agency, and we have to share the positive evidence of change when we see it, too.

  3. As Theora mentioned in our discussion, I think most people nowadays are familiar with the concept of the interconnectedness of all things, which provides an easy starting point when talking about wicked problems. There are a lot of useful and relevant metaphors, such as global markets and climate change, or even the imagery of a drop of food coloring permeating through a glass of water until all ‘molecules’ are transformed. Many people are also familiar with the ineffectiveness of “bandage” solutions that address symptoms, but not the underlying cause.

    When explaining the concept of wicked problems to family, I use this idea of interconnectedness to convey the complex network of inputs/triggers that makes addressing wicked problems so difficult. My twin sister is a pharmacist in a hospital, and in complicated cases, they do have to consider the interactions of different drugs if a patient is on several different medications. In some cases one drug can’t be used because it may exacerbate another, pre-existing condition, and in that case some creative solutions need to be found. However, as treatments are in most cases administered to treat acute symptoms of chronic problems (usually attributed to poor lifestyle choices, which are not adequately addressed), I don’t feel that pharmacists take the entire body as a system into consideration enough. This is most obvious in pharmaceutical ads for medicines that may temporarily treat insomnia, for example, but have several, much more harmful side effects.

    Another sister of mine is a lawyer, and I think an interesting concept in the law is that of legal precedent. Precedent in the law implies that when judges make decisions in one case, that judgment/decision establishes a principle that could potentially be used to formulate the argument/judgment for another case, even if several years later. I think this concept is very useful in that it forces lawyers/judges to be future-thinking, to think about the entire justice system as a whole, to acknowledge that their one decision could potentially have a much larger impact (positive or negative), and to recognize the weightiness of their decisions. It therefore encourages those in the legal profession to make decisions with great wisdom and foresight. Parallels between the law and transition design can be drawn in that that, when solving wicked problems, decisions once made are very difficult to reverse. Also, design interventions have far-reaching impacts, and so that same level of wisdom and foresight is as crucial in design as in the law.

  4. I have discussed with my wife many Taiwanese social problems currently happening in Taiwan and some global crisis as well. When I came out with the term “wicked problem” and define it as a problem that can’t be strictly defined and any applied solutions would feed back to the problem itself, she could understand easily.
    To think of some issues in the perspective of “wicked problem” gives us a brand new eyes on it. For example, the second largest city in Taiwan only have two subway lines now and decide to stop building the third one since the subway company lose too much money even year and government need to keep investing it in order to maintain its operating. On one hand, we could blame citizens not using the public transportation (they should be grateful there is subway). On the other, we could blame that two lines do not cover enough area to provide incentive for citizens to take it. This is kind of cause-and-effect view can go in in both direction.
    However, to think of this as a wicked problem, we could run away from the previous binary positions and think about other ways to deal this transportation problem. The problem space is not only subway but transportation and the answer space is not only more subway lines but different ways of transportation.
    Although we are not digging deep enough into wicked problem, it is still the first step to treat some major issue as wicked problem and come out with answers from totally different mindset comparing to the traditional one.

    • I think this brings up an interesting point. Subway systems, as well as other mass-transportation systems, need to achieve “critical mass” in order to run efficiently and in most cases, to be profitable. If there’s only one line, (as is the case with Pittsburgh’s light rail) only a small percentage of the city’s population will be able to use it. A fully developed subway system, found in cities such as New York or Shanghai, has no shortage of riders. But addressing the question of, how does a system get from point A to point B is essential. There might be a low amount of passengers on the subway system in this city in Taiwan, and it might remain that way until 3 additional lines open. But infrastructure projects such as building a subway line are incredibly expensive, and so I can understand both sides to this issue.

      To quote the American movie The Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” But if that costs 3 billion dollars, that required a lot of faith, or in this case, projections, planning, and available capital.

  5. I think most people are keenly aware of wicked problems, even if they don’t know that’s what they are called. Before starting this program, I was unaware of the term, ‘wicked problem.’ But did I discuss them often. Usually, their ‘wickedness’ would just serve to either frustrate or depress me. Once I learned more about what they are and that there are ways to deal with them, my affinity for problem solving was exposed to a myriad of new ideas and possibilities. I’m very intrigued with the idea of analyzing them and hopefully to enable change.

    I discussed wicked problems and the lecture on the future of fish with my girlfriend and her friend, both who are in the medical field. That led to a conversation about many of the problems and issues they face, particularly concerning interactions and conflicts between students, residents, and physicians. I explained that this is a wicked problem that’s connected to many other wicked problems. If the instructions that med students receive in a classroom end up being detrimental to the senior resident’s efforts to teach them in the hospital, then that is where a designer could come in and look at ways to remedy or improve the situation. They acknowledged that there are many stakeholders, each with their own agendas. They were also mildly surprised that this work was considered ‘design.’ In their view, this was the work of a consultant. So in this case, what’s the difference between a designer and a consultant? It seems like those lines are quite blurred.

    I also mentioned this to my roommate, who exclaimed, “Wicked? Like what they say up in Boston?”

    • I had a similar conversation with my girlfriend who is also in the medical field. I think discussions around healthcare can be great demonstrations of wicked problems and, as we have discussed in class, the body is useful metaphor in this context. We talked about the problem of diabetes in the primary care context, where a patient may come in with uncontrolled diabetes and the doctor can prescribe the appropriate medications, instructions for taking those meds, and encouragement for the patient to eat healthier. However, the reason that patient may have diabetes in the first place could be tied to the fact that they cannot afford or have access to healthy food and are constantly being bombarded by food marketing. They may struggle to take their meds because they are working multiple jobs, have a child that requires special attention, and a grandparent that is living in the household. The conversation then is not about the diabetes per se, but about an entire life that is impacted by particular social, economic, and political issues. Similarly the medical field’s approach to health has become more and more specialized, where the symptoms of problems are treated and it is very hard to get a holistic view of any one patient’s health. Osteopathic medicine seeks to combine eastern and western forms of medicine and take a holistic view of health, but within the current medical paradigm it is hard to truly practice this way.

      By the end of our rather long conversation, we agreed that the healthcare industry, and primary care in particular, could really use some Transition Design design.

    • I agree with you Jesse, I think most people are aware of wicked problems. They have different names and ways of knowing them. As designers, we have a particular viewport that we see from. I had a rich discussion with my colleague, Vince Villela, who is a Masters of Education student at Pitt. He brought up points about the positive feedback loops within our education system which are complicated and difficult to dislodge or disrupt. He focused a lot on the ways that early childhood education can put mindsets in place which may not be possible to overcome later in life, even with re-education. I found that our vantage points were significantly different, but our ways of thinking were harmonious and complimentary.

      Vince also works in the prison system as a teach, and in many ways, the entangled feedback loops present in the primary education system are even more pronounced in the prisons. Add to that the for profit model which creates the companies that run the prisons, and wow, you’ve got quite the intractable wicked problem.

      I wonder how people across fields can create meaningful collaborations. It’s one thing to have a drink and see the interconnections between things in a conversation, its another to create a collaborative project and take action.

  6. I ended up talking about wicked problems with my parents who were not familiar with the term. After explaining to my dad that a wicked problem is not a really cool problem, they were able to quickly understand what I meant by a wicked problem.

    I found that the most effective way of having a conversation around wicked problems was to understand your audience and attempt to create connections between what they see in their daily life and wicked problems. This was relatively easy with my parents. I knew I could draw from some of their experiences that we have talked about before, specifically those where they were forced to have a deeper understanding of why something was occurring or where at first glance a problem seemed isolated when it was part of a larger web of issues.

    With my dad, I brought up his job. On a day to day basis, he navigates a maze of relationships attempting to ensure everyone’s needs are met. He understands that an issue popping up in one small area of his business can quickly start to affect the business as a whole. It took years to understand how these issues were interconnected and to gain the knowledge to quickly deal with such issues before they become bigger problems. Talking to him about the connections between his experiences and wicked problems, made the conversation easy. Employing a similar approach to conversations around wicked problems, can only be beneficial for both those unfamiliar and familiar with the term.

  7. Driving with my roommate through Garfield a few weeks back, I had brought up the topic of transition design and the term wicked problems as we passed by the torn down Penn Plaza Apartments. We discussed the housing issues in Pittsburgh as a wicked problem, but dropped the conversation shortly there after.

    I reached out to her again with this prompt in mind. She is currently working towards her Master of Public Health at Pitt and just completed two years in the Peace Corps so I was eager to get her take on this topic. She was quick to remember our previous conversation and I was a bit surprised when she told me that they use the same term of “wicked problems” in Public Health. She brought up that, while they use the term wicked problems, they use the term “web of causation” (https://www.reference.com/health/causation-model-3b7c1b422cf450c3) more frequently. She described wicked problems as involving multiple stakeholders, having multi-faceted sources, and being a collaboration between many different fields. She mentioned the fields of architecture, public health practitioners, and social work as just a few involved.

    She is taking a course called Environmental Occupational Health (EOH) and she brought up the wicked problem of oil spills. It was interesting to talk with her through a Public Health lens. I could recall talking about this exact topic just a few weeks ago in TD and I found that what she was able to add to the conversation was extremely interesting. Viewing the problem as a public health issue brought in bio engineers and public health figures that would focus on not only immediate disease issues, but chronic issues that could arise as a result of the spill.

    I think it’s important to have these conversations with other disciplines, not only to connect on similar issues but to view those issues through multiple lenses. By approaching wicked problems through various lenses, we may be able to better align and communicate in interdisciplinary teams. I’m eager to talk with more people outside of the design discipline on this topic.

  8. I explained wicked problem to my husband and discussed about its framework; I gave him an example of transportation issue in Pittsburgh which is my team’s topic for wicked problem map. He couldn’t agree more on the idea of tangled problems all around us. He also agreed on the need for framework and the way it works as a whole system. What I found interesing is that he thought economical interest among different stakeholders play significant role in the dynamic. I guess his academic background in business management affects on that idea. His idea reminded me Kevin Slavin’s ted talk I’ve watched in Mps/Mdes semina 1 last semester. The speaker talked about how competitive wall street stock market changed natual environement and shaped our world.
    https://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_slavin_how_algorithms_shape_our_world

  9. I decided that it would be interesting to talk about wicked problems with my baby sister. I knew that she heard of the term wicked problems before, so I started off by explaining to her what it was and then gave her an example. I tried to ask her questions that made her dig deeper. I have to say that I am very proud of her insight. She also made me take a step back and think about things more. She even used the word “lifestyle.” See our dialogue below:

    Denise: Have you ever heard of the term wicked problem?

    My Baby Sister: Uh, no.

    Denise: A wicked problem is a problem that is very difficult to solve, for example, gentrification. Do you know what gentrification is?

    My Baby Sister: No.

    Denise: Did you ever notice how in our neighborhood in Boston there are more luxury condos being built and you see less families every year when you go trick or treating? Well that’s a problem of gentrification because the families who used to live in these homes can’t afford to live there anymore. Meanwhile, these college kids who can afford the rent move in and you see the local shops being knocked down for all the new hipster restaurants. Isn’t it sad that the that Karaoke place we liked is now gone and they built a luxury apartment in its place? This is kind of like a Wicked Problem. What do you think about this?

    My Baby Sister: If it is a big problem, it will take a while to solve. It will depend on the types of people who are solving the problem. Also, there are people who don’t care about solving the problem. For these problems, you should raise awareness because some people don’t care enough. It seems like you can only solve these wicked problem if everyone participates – everyone in the world. If you want to solve a problem fast, you have to get more people.

    Denise: Why don’t you think some people don’t care about these wicked problem?

    My Baby Sister: People who don’t care because it’s not immediately affecting their lives, so they don’t see it everyday. So, to them, it’s a second hand problem.

    Denise: How do you think we should solve wicked problem?

    My Baby Sister: First, start with with the country that have the most problems. Then we should also probably talk to all the people involved. For example, if some kids get to go to school and some kids can’t afford to because they have to work, we should talk to the kids who can’t afford to go to school. Just because they don’t have an education, doesn’t mean that we can’t listen to them. They probably have new ideas that we might not even think of. Taking to the people who are actually affected by the problems will help solve wicked problems.

    Denise: Do you have an example of a Wicked Problem that you think about?

    My Baby Sister: Probably America because it’s so divided right now.

    Denise: How do you think people should solve that?

    My Baby Sister: I think people shouldn’t be so narrow minded.

    Denise: How do you stop people from being narrow minded?

    Laura: You have to figure out a way to make them understand what’s going on better and really open their eyes.

    Denise: Do you have another term for “wicked problems”?

    My Baby Sister: I’d probably call it A REALLY BIG PROBLEM that can be solve in many steps or many years. You can’t solve it in a day and go back to bed. It going to be a continuous lifestyle of solving this problem.

  10. Manya Krishnaswamy February 5, 2017 at 3:59 am Reply

    I spoke to my parents about wicked problems and like most people, while they hadn’t heard of the term before, they were definitely familiar with nature of these problems. They were immediately able to draw on concrete examples that they were familiar with, such as issues around immigration and water supply in Singapore, and use them as ways to discuss the concept. We discussed a range of examples of interventions aimed at addressing these problems – both successful and unsuccessful.

    Talking about concrete examples enabled them to identify some of the characteristics of a wicked problem in a way that made sense to them, such as conflict and lack of trust between stakeholders, small failures in intervening can set progress back tremendously, etc. It also opened up discussion of the different approaches that could be taken to begin to address these problems – from top-down to ground-up approaches – and their strengths and weaknesses.

    The key, I think, is to build on what people already know and their existing mental model of large scale, societal and environmental issues.

  11. I spoke to my mother about wicked problems this week. It was a really interesting conversation with her, as she deals with wicked problems almost daily in her line of work – she is an engineer working for the Indian Railways. She wasn’t aware of the term “wicked” problems, she called it system problems. She found it very important that we as designers are having conversations with other forms of disciplines to connect and understand issues larger than our immediate reach. Working for a government organization, she understands the need to involve stakeholders at each level of the organization and to have very transparent conversations around system thinking. And to learn about issues from different lenses makes solving wicked problems much easier.

  12. I discussed the wicked problem with my boyfriend, who has a background in Math and Computer Science. We talked about the example of air pollution in Beijing and it’s easy for him to understand the interconnectedness among different fields. He said such mutual influences are very normal in the Math field, there is always not a one-step solution.
    Rather than “wicked problem”, he called these problems as “system problem”. To solve these problems, it’s essential to hear voices from experts of all related disciplines who serve as the representatives of people’s needs in that field(hear the voices from grassroots). Each of the stakeholders views the problem from their particular and limited frame of reference, that’s why we must solicit opinions extensively on these matters.
    ps. Almost everyone around me is surprised by hearing that designers deal with system-level wicked problems.

  13. I talked to my mom about wicked problems. She did not know of the term “wicked problems” but knows the implications it represents. At first, without a defined problem the conversation become pretty philosophical. Most people nowadays would be familiar with the concept that everything in the world is interconnected. Nothing is truly black or white; every problem/solution is always shades of grey. Because she is a software engineer, the conversation became more directed towards coding. She gave the example of finding and solving bugs in code. Rarely are bugs ever an isolated thing. Usually, one bug would trigger another bug, if not hundreds or thousands of other bugs. And when it’s time to fix them, the strategy is also to look at the big picture and not isolating small areas because solving one bug can potentially set off dozens of new bugs.

  14. I thought of talking to my husband about this topic who hails from an engineering and management background. He is a wonk when it comes to current affairs, so even though I was sure he might have heard of this term somewhere, it would be interesting to know how he relates to them.
    Me: Are you aware of the word, wicked problems?
    Him: Of course I do, you wrote a paper on this topic, didn’t you?
    Me: What do you remember about it?
    Him: Ummm.. I remember you telling me that it’s a social problem or a cultural one, which is related to many other problems and is impossible to solve. In fact, I saw this documentary on PBS about the conflicts between Israel and Palestine and how there is no single solution to solve it. I thought that was a wicked problem!
    Me: How so?
    Him: Things are so complicated. People are relying on their age-old beliefs to destroy what they have today. There are no concrete reasonings or solutions to solve these issues.
    Me: That’s an interesting way to look at it. Can you think of wicked problems that form a part of our daily life?
    Him: Ya, I think education, food, politics…
    Me: What about transportation?
    Him: Transportation doesn’t seem like such a big issue. Why can’t you solve it?”
    It was a very interesting discussion thereon, which was basically a summary of what my group and I discussed while working on our wicked map for the same topic and he confessed that thinking about the systems-level issues and changes is not only tough but eye-opening. The layers that unfold while thinking about such issues are so unpredictable and ambiguous. The fact that designers can think about these things was a surprise for him too.

  15. I think a crucial factor while working on wicked problems is “personal sentiment”. As quoted by Denise’s baby sister, wicked problems are second-hand problems for people, however, if parts of wicked problems appear to people’s dislike, it’s more likely that people tend to fix them which in turn affects the larger problem.

    My mother always expresses a dislike towards wasting paper because in her line of work people have to keep a lot of documentation. She works for vigilance department of Airports Authority of India. It’s a government agency. Their methods are still not completely digital, so much so that each regional office generate 4.5 metric tons of paper waste. Due to her personal dislike towards paper waste, she and some other folks sharing the same sentiment founded an association, Kalyanmayee, which runs paper recycling plants. They recycle so much paper that they are able to produce fresh office supplies in a profitable way. So, what’s the big deal about this?

    – Employment to thousands of unskilled workers (involved in collection, recycling, production, and redistribution)
    – Reduction in paper litter in the geographical region by 70%
    – Employment to hundreds of artists and craftsmen to design new office supplies
    – A system in place to recycle paper waste throughout AAI

    She told this to me around 5years ago but our chat from yesterday was different. After being engaged in this movement for more than a decade she understands the problem on a systemic level but while starting off if was more about addressing the immediate issue in the most sustainable(least disruptive, more actionable) way. Now she is in a position to take innovative stance since she understands the larger economic, environmental and infrastructural ecosystem. She could completely understand my explanation of wicked, however, she explained such in her own way as “उलझा हुआ” (intertwined).

  16. It reminds me of an online discussion once happened in China and a conversation I had with a friend about it. It started with a picture of a tearful kid on which there was one sentence: All the human traffickers should be condemned to death. Since children abduction is a very serious problem in the nation — there were about 70 thousand children being trafficked per year, within one day, this picture was transmitted all over the internet. As reported, 80% people expressed their endorsement.

    As I thought death penalty could not effectively stop human traffickers, I talked to one of my friends who having a daughter. After talking, she agreed with me that there were too many factors (now I know they should be called as stakeholders) involved in children trafficking, and this problem could only be ameliorated through multiple aspects, such as establishing miss children abduction system, strengthening enforcement of law,improving children adoption system, etc. Both of us believed this was a huge, tricky problem (we didn’t know the term of “wicked problem” at that time,) which could not be solved by a single strict and sentimental law. However, she still insisted that children traffickers must be sentenced to death since it was fairly hard to initiate changes in various system and it would ask for a relatively long period to see the impact.

    Thus, I think wicked problem is not difficult to understand for general public. But without a systematic and transparent plan, as well as a productive process of execution to generate changes, people may choose radical solution over transition design methodologies. After all, people are not always be calm and rational to make the right decision.

  17. I spoke with my roommate, who is starting his own non-profit consulting company that advertises their use of “design thinking” to solve problems. To be sure he knew what was at stake and what was involved in design thinking, I challenged him to explain what a wicket problem is and how to solve it.

    He relayed some case studies to me about strategic plans he had created in the past, and when he was explaining them to me what was evident is that they had fallen into a one-size-fits all approach to problems in the non-profit space. If this, then this seemed to be his mantra. When I pointed this out to him, he was obviously a bit defensive, and brought up the fact that I didn’t have the same type of expertise in that area. Considering ripple-effects is important to strategic plans of non-profits. I urged him to think about where the funding was coming from? What kinds of grants were they writing, and did the philanthropic organizations granting the funds align with creating a holistically better future? We also had a conversation about smart cities and big data and what the ramifications could be (one of the case studies was about smart cities). He conceded that they had not thought about things like wealth inequality, pollution, etc. when they created their plans. But he left the conversation more thoughtful than when we started.

    I think, in order to engage people in the concept of wicked problems, it is important to a) situation the conversation around something they have expertise in and relate it to a wicked problem and b) be ready to challenge them on some of their belief systems. In order to raise awareness about wicked problems, challenging assumptions about what people think they know about a particular situation is a good place to start.

  18. I searched around and chose to speak with my friend from high school. I introduced the problem space by bringing up examples such as universal availability of water, systemic poverty, and the AI control problem, etc, allowing them to define their terminology. Though they were not familiar with the specific term “wicked problems”, they were highly fluent in the problem space, choosing to use the term “global issue”. I then introduced the idea that these issues might be much smaller in scale, say, town-wide, but be similarly tightly bound and intractable. Then I introduced the term “wicked problem” and they thought it was a decent enough word choice, and we ran with it.
    I would say that facilitation of conversation is certainly possible even if someone is not familiar with the specific term. If someone is reasonably well-educated they will be very familiar with this class of problems, likely having encountered some in their own lives. I would say that they can speak well about the issues without using any particular name for the overall class.
    However, a difficulty stems from the fact that in the end of the day, it remains only conversation. Any single conversation is not likely to produce change of an entire system, let alone the behavioral makeup of a single person.
    It seems unlikely that total societal change can occur merely from a collection of these singular conversations. Perhaps something larger needs to occur.

  19. Michelina Campanella February 5, 2017 at 8:15 pm Reply

    Explaining wicked problems to people who are not familiar with them is in some ways easier to do than talking with people who are somewhat familiar with them. When I talk with my mother about the work we are doing in class, she finds it fascinating and a new way of looking at things than she previously had, but always leaves the conversation asking how one person can make an impact. On the other hand, talking with a friend who is a lawyer and familiar with the interconnectedness of problems, sees the solution in policy-making as the most powerful solution. It’s difficult for people with existing knowledge and problem solving styles to break their mental models and approach things from a different perspective than perhaps for someone like my mother who has little exiting knowledge of them.

    In all cases, it is important to first understand the background and mental framework for whom your are speaking with in order to present information to them in a way they can understand and contribute. I try to ask myself, what working knowledge does this person have about this issue? What are their existing assumptions, can I use examples from these assumptions to illustrate my point or do I need to challenge these assumptions to allow room for new ones?

  20. I introduced the topic to one of my friends, who is an industrial designer. His take on wicked problems was interesting because although he was aware of these problems, he said that he hasn’t named them like this. He was aware that the world, especially out of developed countries, is having very big and complex problems such as poverty, hunger, and sanitation. And he pointed out that he has taken a stab at this issue for his graduation project. He designed a water storage system for villages that do not have water infrastructure. http://aburakaktas.com/aquakit.html He immediately pointed out that although these problems are hard to solve due to their complex, living nature at one attempt, these problems can be divided into small steps or keystones that can be solved in different local scales such as villages, neighborhoods, or even cities.

    For me in his project, most prominent reason of the wicked problem of sanitation was due to the lack of proper infrastructure for water, which affects all other systems such as “healthy-living” or “development level” in general. Having a hard time accessing water for drinking and sanitation, I can see that other areas such as education also is getting affected. I see my friends solution effective in some ways such as it is designed for low-cost manufacturing so that if a bigger level initiative (such as UNDP) decides to solve the problem through his solution, it can actually become real-life. One interesting improvement on this concept to tackle this kind of wicked problems would be to enable people that experiencing problems to fabricate (or being able to manufacture) the solutions themselves (similar to DIY Designs), which I believe most of the outsider solutions fail to consider.

    Indeed, our discussion was also an interesting brain exercise indeed.

  21. Yesterday, I explained “Wicked Problem” to one of my friend who is currently pursuing PhD in Architecture. At first, she didn’t understand the concept right away, but once I brought some example, such as global warming, she understood it right away. This conversation sounded very similar when I tried to explain what the Interaction Design is to my friends. Both terms are hard to explain solely because it involves so many stakeholders and various fields. We began to discuss “Comfort Women” issue happening in South Korea. The so‐called “comfort women” mean sexual slaves who were often recruited by trickery and forced to serve the Japanese military during the Second World War. It was interesting to see how we perceive same issue but in different lens. I only encountered this issue through online media but my friend actually tried to involve within the situation and listen victim’s story by attending Wednesday demonstration, which aims to obtain justice from the Japanese government regarding Comfort Women issue. She actually explained how activists placed the new statue outside the consulate to mark their opposition to a South Korea-Japan agreement reached a year ago to finally resolve the “comfort women” issue. I think the key lesson would be to have unbiased information about the issue and try to perceive it from different lens. 

    • “Comfort Women” is also one of the historical issues China had with the Japanese military. I guess one of the difficulties for explaining or even discussing this wicked issue in China is definitely related to national hatred towards Japan. When talking about Japan with the older generation, young generation like me often felt very hard to keep a calm and rational conversation with them. Older generation have an extremely biased/negative opinions toward the Japanese, and they tend to generalize the entire nation regardless of age, gender or other traits people have. I think the issue should be explained case by case, and each case is a wicked problem because of different intentions, rationales, stakeholders, etc. But maybe older people would make a sweeping generalization that every case is the Japanese army’s fault.

  22. I decided to discuss the concept of wicked problems with my housemate, who’s an exchange student from the Netherlands. First, we had clarification that wicked problems was not merely a description of a concept or problem, but an established term. Once the language was understood, it made him want to fit examples into the term. We discovered that wicked problems colored into a lot of his studies, since he’s currently pursuing a masters in public policy. A lot of our discussion centered around what we can do to move forward with wicked problems, and the way I approached it was by saying how every person brings a set of skills to the table, and understanding their own tools is the best first step to optimizing one’s own agency. He said that one of his greatest strengths both in his program and with wicked problems could be communication. One of his most recent projects was the professor giving each student in the class a certain problem or issue in the world, and to give a compelling presentation without any visuals, to make their classmates understand and feel by concept only. His topic was the banana fungus problem, and possible banana extinction in the near future for the second time in history. With a specialization in policy, his first move was to look at the policies in place, but the micro-steps and framework for that started first with exercises such as that one: to stand in a room of people who knew nothing about banana panama disease and understand the problem enough to talk to them about it.

  23. When I explained ‘wicked problems’ to my dad, I was also met with, “like they say in Boston?”. I chose to explain a wicked problem in terms of the future of fish as well. He was quite horrified, and had never thought about fishing as complex systemic problem before. However, he was quite familiar with thinking through complex webs of causes and effects, though he had never heard of the term ‘wicked problem’.

  24. Delanie Ricketts March 14, 2017 at 2:34 pm Reply

    When explaining the topic of “wicked problems” to someone, they understood my description as meaning problems that are entrenched with no easy solutions. I think this is accurate, but I would go one step further to say that they are global in scope. While wicked problems may be addressed locally, the effects of them are felt globally. They are issues that are difficult to address because global government doesn’t exist.

    The UN may try to address issues of gender discrimination, for instance, through its declaration of sustainable development goals. However, meeting these goals often requires complex action from diverse actors, including state governments, foreign governments, non-government organizations, and local community-based organizations. The purpose of this web of actors is to redistribute resources where they are needed. If a particular community seeks to create opportunities for girls to go to school but does not have the resources to do so, it may call on its local or national government to help. Perhaps other non-government organizations get involved to provide the capacity to create such programs. Perhaps these non-government organizations rely on funding from foreign governments, which also may have regulations that impact the development of programs seeking to address gender disparity.

    Just by a cursory exploration of actors involved in gender equality efforts shows how complex a “wicked problem” like this is. Wicked problems exist party because there isn’t a single actor that can address them — no single government or non-government organization is equipped to address them alone. It takes collective action from diverse stakeholders to solve wicked problems, and this collective action is partly why it’s so difficult to begin to address them in the first place.

    One initiative that I’ve found to be particularly enlightening is the “Compact of Mayors”, which is a global effort of mayors around the world committed to reducing their city’s greenhouse gas emissions. By prompting local action to address the global wicked problem of climate change, this initiative successfully provides resources and capacity for cities all of the world to take action. A city becomes compact compliant by reporting their emissions through a rigorous index and taking concrete steps to create a goal and stick to it. It is this type of local action by diverse stakeholders on a global scale that seems to me to be most promising for addressing wicked problems in light of how I understand wicked problems as entrenched global issues with no easy solutions.

  25. My mom did not know the team ‘wicked problems’, but when I gave the example of corruption, she immediately understood. We started discussing about how bad the corruption in India is and quickly moved on to what can be done. But, every solution we came up with ended at a road block. This was good (in a way) because I could explain to her why such problems are called wicked problems. She gave up quickly and said it is impossible to eradicate corruption.
    This made me think. If I had a magic wand that could completely remove corruption, would i use it? Maybe. Maybe not. Here’s why.
    As i was packing my bags, ready to fly to the US for my masters, I got a call from the national bank I had taken a loan from. The manager tells me that I need to hand over a mortgage agreement and do it at the earliest. After turning to varied sources from the internet to relatives on where and how I can acquire this document, I landed at the local government office. Surprisingly, the officer saw me immediatly. I explained what I needed and why, and he heard me very patiently. At the end of it all, he says “Don’t worry. It will be done. You just need to bring two people as guarantors who can sign for you. They cannot be related to you. They will have to be here for a couple of hours and sign on a piece of paper and that’s it”. Now, in the middle of a working day, how do I find two people who are not even related to me, to come and wait at a government office for two hours? As I got up and walked back to the stairs, a friendly gentleman who had been watching all this approached and asked what I needed. I told him and he said he can do it for me but it will cost me. I had no option but to ‘happily’ agree. Yes, happily because I had to hand over that document to the bank for the loan to be disbursed and I was flying in two weeks! For a ‘under-the-table’ charge of Rs.1500($23), the document was made available to me in 30min. Two employees in the very government office, who have not seen me before, were my guarantors. The same officer I had met, had attested the document without even reading it. when I tried to bargain with the tout, he told me how he has to pay a majority to the officer and some more to the guarantors and he gets to keep less that 1/3rd the amount. It did not matter as I got what I wanted an was on my way. And this is not the first time I have paid a bribe, only the most recent.
    So you see how the work happened easily, just by paying some money. If there was no corruption, I wonder how tough the process would have been. Even though I realize that corruption is bad, its wicked nature just makes it tougher to live without.

  26. I spoke with a friend about the term “wicked problem.” The specific term was new to him, however, the concept wasn’t foreign at all. This type of systemic thinking formed the foundation of his undergrad studies. If he had to label this sort of problem, he might have used the term “hairy problem” or “systemic problem.” I asked if he saw the value in labeling “wicked problems” as such. He didn’t see the immediate benefit, however, I wonder if the use of term can be helpful in engaging someone that’s less familiar with these concepts.

    • I really like Monique’s comment and fully support it as even I have noticed that the concept of wicked problems is not new to anyone. In fact, I have discussed the definition of a wicked problem and the types of wicked problems with people from various fields apart from design as well. But people tend to run away from this term as it has a negative ring to it. It sounds like an impossible task and sounds scary to take a stab at. I feel all wicked problems are huge networks and intertwined encouraging another wicked problem. Thus, a wicked problem is a system gone wicked and having adverse effects visible over time.

  27. In explaining the concept of “wicked problems” to my brother, he was able to grasp the concept as a problem that is entangled and layered, and for which a solution would be complicated and take a long time to implement–the term was new but the concept was not. We talked through the example of affordable housing and community development, since he’s worked for a non-profit in Pittsburgh (Rebuilding Together) that is focused on completing home repairs for low-income seniors and families who own their homes, in an effort to keep them in their homes long term. He shared that in his three years with the organization his feeling is that they have been successful in serving many individual families, the problem of keeping families in homes they can afford isn’t solved only by fixing up their homes–since their homes got into a state of disrepair over time, because of problems with access to educational opportunities that led to low-wage job, declining job markets, access to affordable healthcare, all impacted by financial markets and other larger forces. He mentioned that in his organization using a strategy to problem-frame like wicked problem mapping might be beneficial to look at the ways they might expand their impact.

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