Wicked Problems

Does anyone have an example of a Wicked Problem?

The concept of “wicked problems” in design was originally proposed by H. J. Rittel and M. M. Webber (1984) in the context of social planning. They pointed out that in solving a wicked problem, the solution of one aspect may reveal another, more complex problem. Rittel and Webber suggested that the following rules define the form of a wicked problem:

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 in representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong.


Here is a better explanation of a wicked problem.

Here is the problem of national forestry management presented as a wicked problem.

Here is issues facing the Methodist Church presented as a wicked problem.

I tend to think that if trying to hold more items that you can reasonable hold, and, when you drop one item and you try to pick it up and in the process drop more items… then that’s a wicked problem.


Answering, “Does this make me look fat?” is a wicked problem.

Just wondering, are Rittel and Webber from the Boston area?

Not sure, seems like Horst and Webber were at Berkeley.

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