What’s a Wicked Problem?

Call it wicked, messy, or complex, it’s different from a complicated problem.  A box of parts with a set of instructions will eventually become a bicycle.  It’s not easy.  It’s complicated.  There is a linear path to a solution.

If a problem is complex, messy, or wicked, complete knowledge of all its factors in not possible, and there’s always more to know and issues to consider.  Every component relates to another; it’s a complex interplay of variables.

There are no commonly accepted answers, and every expert comes at the problem from unique disciplinary, ideological, or personal values and interests.  Answers are never dichotomous – neither good/bad or right/wrong.  They require judgment.  There no single “test” of efficacy – perception often governs.

And as understanding grows, the perceptions and expectations of the problem changes.  This requires continuous reframing.  In other words, there’s no resolution.  The search for answers is perpetual.

Here are some samples. (Note that it’s not just “social media.”  The better wicked problems have specificity.)

In my think-space, I intend to offer some examples but have my students develop their own.  My contention:  investment from choice yields rigor.

  • What’s the impact of social media on human communications?
  • What are the causes of international conflict?
  • What are the implications of the changing culture around technology?
  • Has increased globalization changed approaches to education in the United States?
  • What are the contributions of liberal arts courses to majors outside of the liberal arts?
  • What is the meaning of happiness?
  • How is success defined differently in different countries?
  • How can we best understand the concept of evil?
  • What role does reading play in an increasingly digital world?
  • What is intellect?
  • How can we ensure that students never forget what they learn?
  • What is the value of attending a university?


We use Issue Maps to help make reveal the complexity of our problem. We have two Issue Mapping workshops this week – Tuesday at 4:00 and Wednesday at 2:00.  Both are at the CTL in CCE.

And there’s a narrated powerpoint on issue mapping on Blackboard – FYS Instructors>Course Planning>2016 Course Planning Documents.



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