Here’s a little something I wrote ages ago
which I should have shared with you. Never too late:
Simple problems (problems which are already defined)
are easy to solve,
because defining a problem
inherently defines a solution.
The definition of a problem is subjective;
it comes from a point of view.
Thus, when defining problems,
all stake-holders, experts, and designers
are equally knowledgeable
Some problems cannot be solved,
because stake-holders cannot agree on the definition.
These problems are called wicked,
but sometimes they can be tamed.
Solving simple problems may lead to improvement”
but not innovation.
For innovation, we need to re-frame wicked problems.
Because one person cannot possibly remember
or keep track of all the variables (of both existing and desired states)
in a wicked problem,
taming wicked problems requires many people.
These people have to talk to each other;
they have to deliberate; they have to argue.
To tame a wicked problem,
they have to agree on goals and actions for reaching them.
This requires knowledge about actions,
not just facts.
Science is concerned with factual knowledge (what-is);
design is concerned with instrumental knowledge
(how what-is relates to what-ought-to-be),
how actions can meet goals.
The process of argumentation is the key
and perhaps the only method of taming wicked problems.
This process is political.
Design is political.
Originally published as part of Why Horst W.J. Rittel Matters
by Chanpory Rith (that’s me!) and Hugh Dubberly,
in Design Issues: Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2007