Working Well with Wickedness – John Law on Wicked Problems

slouching towards bethlehem…

synthetic zerø


“Abstract In 1973 Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber wrote a seminal paper, ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’ in whichthey distinguished between benign and wicked problems. Of the former they wrote that ‘the mission is clear [and] … It is clear, in turn, whether or not the problems have been solved.’
By contrast, wicked problems are vicious, tricky and aggressive, filled with political and material ambivalences, uncertainties and unpredictable feedback loops. In short, for wicked problems neither mission nor what counts as a successful
solution is clear. We now live, they said, in an era of wicked problems. A
general theory of planning (and we might add policy) is impossible.
This working paper revisits this argument. It argues: first that all problems are
wicked; and second, that the only way of handling wicked problems is to
render them temporarily benign. It then explores the tactics for
achieving this both…

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