All Important Problems Are Wicked

Easy Essays About Changing Systems

An interesting but impossible to describe artistic piece of many colors and too many strings to count

Where Do I Start?

Almost a half-century ago, a couple of researchers gave a name to something we all know is real, but have a hard time articulating. They said that science was good at solving what they called “tame” problems, but was inadequate to deal with what they called “wicked problems”.

The name, “Wicked Problems” stuck, because it was a fundamental insight into the difficulties of dealing with the appalling reach of real-world complex adaptive systems (CAS).

Right now, we are dealing with a pandemic, a surge in the explicit oppression of all marginal communities and resistance to that surge, ongoing and apparently unstoppable economic degradation, the potential for the worst hurricane season ever, a healthcare system that has shown its extraordinary brittleness at exactly the time we need it most, and looming long-term failures in the larger economy over the next decade. These are all individually wicked problems, and they are all interconnected.

A gumbo of wicked problems.

These are some of the characteristics of Wicked Problems (WPs):

  • There is no single way to describe the problem. Creating a description of the problem always leaves out very important parts of the WP. You can’t get outside a WP to see it in its entirety, so you can’t ever describe it in its entirety.
  • “Solutions” to WPs never solve them, though they can make them better or worse. To add insult to injury, if your solution is effective, your solution changes the nature of the Wicked Problem without necessarily making it any easier to solve.
  • No matter how we try to categorize a wicked problem, every WP is unique, and our characterization of the WP is inadequate.
  • Every solution to a WP is one-shot; there can be no trial and error approach to WPs. This doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from interacting with the WP. It just means that what we learn will have very little transferability to other apparently similar WPs.
  • We only gain any real understanding of a WP by trying out a solution. Before we come up with a solution, the WP is just a Big Mess. The solution will be inadequate for the problem. So, our understanding will also be  inadequate for the problem, even if this is the best we can do.

People with significant disabilities have a deep understanding of WPs that has developed from our lived experience of dealing with the real world. We have learned some lessons the hard way that can be of use to everyone as we try to improve the current litany of WPs we all face now:

  • Institutions, regardless of their purpose or intentions, are always dangerous places to live.
  • Commitment by medical professionals to customized care of people with disabilities is too often limited by how inconvenient our needs are to the medical practice or the professional staff’s daily routines.
  • For our community, supports that are common in the treatment of the nondisabled are treated as “special” for us and are the first kinds of supports dropped when a crisis like the current pandemic occurs.
  • Finally, the US healthcare system is approaching 20% of the economy.  But, the primary health system take-away from this pandemic is that the search for financial efficiencies and the economic protections that credentialing/licensing and scope of practice laws provide simply made a sizeable proportion of the health care labor force unavailable for responding to the pandemic.

We can certainly get better at managing WPs, but we will have to give up our simple notions of silver bullet solutions and get good at embracing these increasingly Wicked Problems on their own terms.

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, 2dogs, advocate45+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, pa2Loree, gndpa2Nevin