14/05/2019 – 19/05/2019
CTS: WEEK 6
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
– H. L. Mencken
At the core of a wicked problem is that we cannot solve it, it’s difficult or impossible for a multitude of factors: information is unfinished and contradictory, the number of opinions and people involved, upheaval of inter/national economy and the interconnected nature of the wicked problems. A good example is poverty, the characteristics stay the same, however each country even city has distinct problems that are unique to them. So what may improve one place could worsen another. The importance when tackling wicked problems isn’t to have a solution mindset, instead to approach it with an improvement mindset. The circumstances and the problems are constantly changing and evolving with time, each new approach impacts the situation forcing you to start over whether the progress is positive or negative. The worst part about wicked problems is how interconnected socio-economic political problem is. What happens to one affects the other which will affect the first. If we look at the graph below it goes explains precisely the main points of wicked problems.
To relate all of this to the quote by Mencken, let’s look at the world epidemic of obesity, the answer is clear: obese people need to workout and eat less unhealthy food.
However this is wrong, because not all obese people want to be skinny, not all obese people can lose weight, not all obese people can afford to lose weight, not all obese people can access the help they need. Obesity, contrary to poverty or famine which have been present since the dawn of humanity, is an entirely new problem that we fabricated due to the rise of comfort and technology. It is interesting, wicked problems create more wicked problems. By improving agriculture, accessibility and price of food in a bid to solve famine and malnourishment we tipped the scale without fully solving the initial problem. Was obesity inevitable? Or was the epidemic avoidable? This is what makes wicked problems deeply troubling, because we as a society have put ourselves in situations we can no longer get out off. Now we cannot eradicate obesity without tearing apart the fabric of our societies. One could argue that extremist decisions are the way to go, We would all still exist, but we would destroy everything we have done up until this point. The only real difference that can be made to solve wicked problems is for larger entities to make the decisions necessary to solve the problems at hand. At an individual level we can all do things to make a small difference, success in consistent small actions. It may seem unfair, media and politicians make us feel like we’re at fault and that we need to volunteer and donate to charity. The truth is multibillion dollar corporations are behind most of our problems, e.g. the 100 most powerful companies cause 70% of carbon emissions. In spite of this, it doesn’t prevent us from making a difference. Look at Greta Thunberg, at only 16 she has mobilised 1.2 million people to stand up against climate change. However, we’re not all Greta and and it’s more than an organised collective of citizens that will make long-lasting impact, help needs to come from our superiors in order to make real lawful change.
CMU Transition design (2019) Wicked Problems. Available at: https://transitiondesignseminarcmu.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Wicked-problems-flower.png (Accessed: 28 May 2019)
Alamy (2011) Obesity. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2066060/British-women-fattest-Europe-quarter-classed-obese.html (Accessed: 28 May 2019)