This is the third in a series of "blogicles" on how Mess Mapping™ and Resolution Mapping™ processes can be used to represent, analyze, evaluate Wicked Problems and then to choose actions that ameliorate the Wicked Problem at hand.
Organizing some form of working group—a management committee, task force, commission—is often a first step in addressing many social, organizational, and institutional problems whose essential nature is that of a Wicked Problem (equivalently, Social Mess).
“C-level” executives, Boards of Directors, thought leaders, authorities, and change agents don’t really know what to do about Social Messes, often because a given problem usually entails other Messes. Uncertain of the nature, causes, and consequences of Social Messes, those who might be best situated to lead are thus often confused into inaction.
If expert knowledge, partial suspension of self-interest, and excellent facilitation were sufficient to resolve Social Messes, we might be confronted with fewer of them today. Instead, designing or managing healthcare systems, balancing needs for homeland security while protecting constitutional rights, extending educational opportunity to disadvantaged children, moving to more efficient and less polluting ways to create, transport and use energy, or dealing with highly radioactive waste products of nuclear energy generation exemplify Social Messes that continue to resist the best efforts of wise and dedicated executives, foundation executives, politicians, civil servants, and policy advocates.
There are two widely accepted, but overly simplistic explanations for this state of affairs:
- Problems like these are inherently so complex that we don’t understand them anywhere near well enough to develop reasonable methods for making progress in resolving them. Skepticism may extend to the validity or futility of attempting to gather and interpret data, accept working hypotheses, and taking actions intended to ameliorate the problems at hand.
- It's politics: these problems resist resolution because stakeholders believe that they have rights to not only to strongly held opinions about proposed solutions, but also about the methods, motivation and meaning of any serious effort to address the problems. For instance, NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) responses frequently arise from attempts to address nuclear waste, clean generation using wind turbines, and many other Wicked Problems, including their component Problems. Political skepticism may even extend to the desirability or utility of pursuing collaboration among stakeholders.
Our collective experience in dealing with complex issues suggests two responses:
- By applying Mess Mapping™ processes—a specific form of Visual Analytics—and collaborative reasoning tools in ways that acknowledge and contain sharp differences of opinion and conflicting data, the complexity of most problems can be managed so that stakeholders arrive at a common framework for understanding these problems.
- By applying Resolution Mapping™ processes—a specific form of Scenario Planning—that combines “simulated hindsight” with highly prepared and structured interactive meetings, participants can leverage information and knowledge at many levels of detail or abstraction to develop a most desirable outcome and the key milestones or events necessary to achieve that outcome. By asking participants to role play, simulate alternative futures, work with modular chunks of information, assess multiple causes and effects, and express their views in “soft voting” or “contingent exercises,” we can accommodate sharp differences in assumptions, knowledge, and values and still make progress toward envisioning successful resolutions of the Wicked Problem at hand.
Resolution Mapping and Mess Mapping processes are each powerful process tools for resolving Wicked Problems. These tools can be successful where others have failed (or feared to tread) because they incorporate or address:
- Uncertainty and risk;
- Systems interacting with other systems;
- Competing points of view and values;
- Different people knowing different parts of the problem (and possible solutions); and
- Intra- and Inter-organizational politics.
Mess Mapping and Mess Map are trademarks of MacroVU, Inc.
Resolution Mapping is a trademark of Strategy Kinetics, LLC.