The Ways of Wickedness: Analyzing Messiness with Messy Tools [Book Review]

Authors
Bryan Norton
University of Cologne
Abstract
The revelatory paper, “Dilemmas in the General Theory of Planning,” by Rittel and Webber (Policy Sci 4:155–169, 1973 ) has had great impact because it provides one example of an emergent consensus across many disciplines. Many “problems,” as addressed in real-world situations, involve elements that exceed the complexity of any known or hoped-for model, or are “wicked.” Many who encounter this work for the first time find that their concept of wicked problems aptly describes many environmental disputes. For those frustrated with the lack of progress in many areas of environmental protection, Rittel and Webber’s work suggested a powerful explanatory hypothesis: Complex environmental problems cannot be comprehended within any of the accepted disciplinary models available in the academy or in discourses on public interest and policy. What should we conclude about the future of social improvements, and about the possibilities for rational discourse leading to cooperative action, with respect to this huge number of pressing public, environmental problems? Can we find ways to address environmental problems that improves the ability of communities to respond creatively and rationally to them? I will argue that, while the Rittel-Webber critique requires us to abandon many of the assumptions associated with a positivistic view of science and its applications to policy analysis, it also points to a more productive direction for the future of policy analysis. I will introduce “boundary critique,” developed within Critical Systems Theory (CST), an approach that offers some reason for optimism in dealing with some aspects of wickedness
Keywords Complexity  Wicked problems  Decision heuristics  Systems theory  Optimization  Boundary critique
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DOI 10.1007/s10806-011-9333-3
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Two Dogmas of Empiricism.Willard V. O. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20–43.
Social Choice and Individual Values.Kenneth J. Arrow - 1952 - Science and Society 16 (2):181-181.

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