Wicked problems, as defined by design theorist Horst W. J. Rittel and city planning professor Melvin M. Webber in 1973, are complex social or cultural problems with an unknown number of potential solutions.
Examples of wicked problems are hunger, climate change, terrorism, health care etc.
Wicked problems often require large systems change; otherwise, they would have been tackled already by firms, governments or civil society organisations.
Optional tool, for note-taking during brainstorming sessions: Dialogue Mapping (http://www.cognexus.org/id41.htm)
More than an active learning method, this can be a framework to engage students with current challenges. The wicked problems method can integrate elements of roleplaying, debating, design thinking or problem solving, just to name a few active learning methodologies worth reviewing.
Design thinking, a systematic approach to finding solutions to problems, is considered a good method for approaching wicked problems. Using the stages of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, this approach helps students combine knowledge, experience, reasoning, and creativity.
3 main three steps:
immersion in the problem: (students are can be assigned the role of the stakeholders involved in the wicked problem;)
generation of potential ideas to tackle the problem:
2:30 minutes of brainstorming by oneself to produce a list of ideas, 2:30 minutes;
working in pairs with another member of the group to pick a single idea from their respective lists;
7:30 minutes developing their idea by discussing, inside the couple, how the idea would work in practice, 7:30 minutes;
each couple then they presentsed their idea to the rest of the group, and the others did the same, 1 each for one minute each;only.
advancement of the most promising ideas: a facilitator wrote each idea on a whiteboard, and the group, as a whole, voted for their favorite idea by placing a Post-it next to the name of the idea on the board.
Roles: different societal actors interact and create problems or are not able (or willing) to come up with solutions. At societal level, identifiable groups of actors become stakeholders, have vested interests, adopt ideologies and create institutions that define the context in which problems become more or less wicked. It is common to distinguish between three societal sectors: state (governments or supranational institutions), markets (firms), civil society (citizens).
You can consider the importance of empathy among the participants who have to put on the shoes of those affected by the wicked problem and thus immerse themselves in the problem. Thus the need to provide providing just enough context to get the participants understand the issue from multiple angles. Once context is settled, students can bring an object/metaphor to the group that symbolises the wicked problem for them (the aim is to introduce themselves by telling personal stories instead of function/role profile).
It is difficult to measure the outcome of work done to solve wicked problems because, by their very nature, they must be confronted in a multitude of different contexts and by different stakeholders.
Assessment can be done depending on the other active learning methodologies used.
Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences, 4(2), 155-169.
Weber, E. P., & Khademian, A. M. (2008). Wicked problems, knowledge challenges, and collaborative capacity builders in network settings. Public Administration Review, 68(2), 334-349.
Partnerships Resource Centre (2016) Wicked Problems Plaza: Principles and Practices for Effective Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue. Rotterdam: Partnerships Resource Centre at RSM, Erasmus University
Rotterdam School of Management A crash course ‘Wicked Problems’ for international students of The Hague Summer School
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