November 29, 2018
Tackling Wicked Problems is perhaps one of the toughest challenges one can face. The reason for this is that wicked problems have no ultimate solution. They might be a problem to some, but not to others; or they differ over time, even to the same person. They may even have different causes and effects at the same time. And working with linear cause-and-effect logic won’t sufficiently tackle wicked problems, as the different causes and effects may have no direct observable relationship. Though it would be crucial to understand direct, indirect and vaguely related causes and effects, who the impacted stakeholders are and how they are impacted. Given such circumstances, a wicked problem thus poses some serious challenges to novice and experienced researcher alike.
Wicked Problems like to hide out very well
Perhaps worth noting, wicked problems are not only those huge issues, like global warming, but can also hide out in apparent straight forward tiny problems. As an example, let’s take the case of high unemployment rates, which most of us would agree is a serious problem. But guess what… they are not a problem to all, or at least not from a very particular angle, and at a very specific point in time.
Wicked Problems can be great for some, or at some point, or under some circumstances
As a concrete example I like to refer to the austerity period in Portugal around 2012 where unemployment rates sky-rocketed, and notably for the younger generation, including those that just finished university. Companies went bankrupt by the second, the property market went down and the economic forecasts were dark. So people kept their money and reduced spending in all areas, including dining out and car use. Now, while all this appears to be clearly negative, let’s look into the details why this had positive effects for entrepreneurs. In response of the above situation, the Portuguese Government provided an appealing startup package for founders. They provided loans that were only partly reimbursable for investments in innovative fields, and they subsidized first time employees that had just finished formal education. Businesses could secure a master graduate level workforce for very little outlay. For businesses with clients outside Portugal, the lower national purchasing power was not an issue. Quite the opposite, those that still had a regular income benefited from promotions during lunch and dinner, or from lower property prices. Now, in 2018, with the economy recovered, property prices have gone up again, governmental incentives for entrepreneurs have been cut and ceased, and labor has become more expensive. Restaurants are crowded again, and the rush hour is again a daily struggle.
So, relatively speaking, which of the two periods would you assume seems to be more problematic if you were an entrepreneur with clients predominantly outside of Portugal?
Wicked Problems constitute a major hurdle in the research process
From our last residency and recent webinars, we learnt that several were struggling with their research exactly because they are confronted with a wicked problem, or with an apparent linear and tiny problem, that it is located within the context of a wicked situation as outlined above. As a result they feel overwhelmed and struggle to decide on strategies on how to take their research project further.
This is why training is needed on how to Tackle Wicked Problems
For this reason, and to reduce the struggles some are facing, we have decided to put together an eight-week online training course on how to “Tackle Wicked Problems”. The course will run for the first time in early 2019 and provide hands on guidance on how tackle wicked problems.
Are you ready to try nailing jelly to the wall?
If you are interested in learning more about this course and how to participate at it, please raise your hand and let us know about your workplace-based problem that you would like to tackle as part of such a course. Provide an overview of your issue or problem, your level of control, types of question/s you need to answer, methods you are/would consider in answering the question/s and why, and if there is any literature you are aware of that has helped shape your thinking around your wicked problem.
Places are limited to a maximum of 16.