This is the first of 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.
In 1973, Rittel and Webber published an article defining "Wicked Problems." Especially in the context of Urban Planning, they wrote that Wicked Problems have these defining characteristics:
- There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
- Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
- Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.
- There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
- 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.
- 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.
- Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
- Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
- 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.
- The planner has no right to be wrong (Planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
Wicked Problems continue to be of great concern to individuals, organizations, nations, and to international communities. A short list of example Wicked Problems includes healthcare in the United States and elsewhere, the AIDS epidemic and perhaps other emerging diseases, Global Climate Destruction, Pandemic (Avian) Influenza, International Terrorism, Homeland Security, and nuclear energy and waste.
Each of these Wicked Problems is related to, and contains other apparently intractable problems. These interconnections--systems of systems--make Wicked Problems so resilient to analysis and to resolution.
At national, state, and local levels there are Wicked Problems having to do with drugs, crime, mental health, education, poverty, urban decay and related issues that many tasks forces and working groups have addressed without making much progress. In addition to being overwhelmed by complexity, working groups fail to resolve these issues because they often fall victim to the bureaucratic silo effect: decision-makers fail to look beyond the boundaries of their own interest group, organization, department, etc., or they believe that it's the responsibility of someone in another silo to fix the Wicked Problem at hand.
Over the past decades, one of us (Horn) has developed an approach to resolving Wicked Problems that combines interactive group processes with Visual Analytics to produce (among other outputs) detailed graphical representations and analyses of Wicked Problems. For reasons to be explained later, Horn refers to Wicked Problems as Social Messes and his visual representations as Mess Map diagrams. Although our definition of Social Messes differs somewhat from Rittel and Webber's definition of Wicked Problems, for convenience we will use these terms interchangeably here.
Another of us (Weber) has been a leader in applying a particular form of scenario planning that has been called Future Mapping®, but for trademark reasons, is referred to here as Resolution Mapping. Because there are no permanent solutions to a given Wicked Problem, we talk about "resolutions" rather than "solutions" (Rittel and Webber use "re-solution" to make the same point).
Resolution Mapping is a knowledge-based, highly interactive group process. Participants can choose their most desirable and attainable outcomes together with those milestones or Events that lead logically to the desired outcome. Participants also focus on actions that would increase the likelihood of significant amelioration or resolution of the Wicked Problem at hand.