To begin, here’s the article which introduced the world to the concept of “wicked problems” >> Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning by Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber

In it, we learn about the 10 properties of a wicked problem:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. 
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot” operation; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an exhaustively describable set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong.

 What does Wicked represent?

It’s important to note that while a wicked problem refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem, the term “wicked” denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. One can argue this point by stating that the resistance to resolution of a wicked problem, in the face of widespread suffering, is evil.

Instead of getting into a finger pointing game, though, we’re interested in solutions. Wicked problems have virtuous solutions.

Examples of Wicked Problems

Wikipedia tells us that a problem whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior is likely to be a wicked problem. These include global climate change, natural hazardshealthcare, the AIDS epidemicpandemic influenza, international drug trafficking, nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, waste and social injustice.

What is the Wicked Seven?

We decided that one of the main reasons that wicked problems aren’t being addressed is because when we try to solve them individually, the boundaries we draw to frame the problem are reductive – they reduce and diminish the scope of the true underlying causes.

That’s why we chose to look at seven wicked problems at once. We included corruption as a wicked problem, because it turns out to be a primary reason why things don’t change for the better.