You can’t solve a wicked problem. That’s what we’ve been led to believe. And for years, we haven’t. Solve them, that is.

Well, if not now, then when? If any lesson has emerged from this COVID-19 pandemic, it is this: we must address the urgent systemic problems of the world now, or perish. Why? Because COVID-19 is just tip of the proverbial iceberg… the ecosystem of wicked problems will not wait.

Wicked problems have virtuous solutions.

As we started thinking about this project, we decided to use a new approach: apply design-thinking to model wicked problems using a collaborative, open-source methodology, and continuously iterate on design models to create a public repository of “virtuous solutions” for the Common Good.

What if we could model a wicked problem and use the model as a “digital twin,” allowing us to simulate alternatives and outcomes?

Our challenge is to create a safe space for the voices that must be heard. Identify alternatives to the current paradigm at local, national, and global levels. Start a public dialogue around virtuous solutions that work – bottom up, top down, and even from the middle.

Where to begin? We chose seven wicked problems. If we can map out the cause and effects of the various dimensions of the problem, perhaps we can begin to identify seven virtuous solutions as well.

Sidenote: traditional systems diagrams show both positive and negative effects, and are notoriously difficult to comprehend. We decided on an approach – inspired by Leonard Schlesinger’s Breaking the Cycle of Failure in Services – which uses a simpler process: we model the wicked map first (the cycle of failure), followed by the virtuous map (the cycle of success). Then, we challenge our assumptions.

To create the wicked and virtuous “digital twin” maps, we will introduce an open-source Wicked7 toolkit which includes a wicked problem discovery tool, and a mapping template.

Finally, we’ll make these maps public and open-source, enabling us to collectively work on improving them – based on evidence and reason, continuously checking in with “reality.”

Will you join us?