Facing Wicked Problems

Wicked Lab’s mission is to build the capacity of communities, organisations, and governments to better tackle wicked problems by creating systemic change. Wicked Lab understands “wicked problems” as complex social policy problems that are difficult to resolve with traditional linear analytical approaches: where individual initiatives focus on one or a few roots causes, or by replicating initiatives that have been developed in other contexts. Thus, Wicked Lab has developed tools for changemakers that focus on enabling communities to take coherent action; building the adaptive capacity of communities; and assisting governments to create the enabling conditions required for this type of approach.

Complex Systems Leadership Programme

The need for the Wicked Lab’s Complex Systems Leadership Programme was identified through discussions with potential users of Wicked Lab’s online Tool for Systemic Change. The programme explains the theory that underpins the Tool for Systemic Change and provides participants with an opportunity to use the tool to address a wicked problem in their community. Furthermore, the programme fosters the development of skills and tools to take action in addressing interconnected and multi-causal complex community problems.

The trainers and facilitators of the programme need to be experts or professionals with a high understanding of how to enable community and government systems to take pragmatic approaches to addressing community problems, as well as recognising different types of problems (simple, complicated, complex, wicked) and the different paths to address them.

The programme is underpinned by an international award-winning model that demonstrates how complexity science can be used to create lasting systemic change for complex social policy problems. It can be delivered as either a tailored programme for teams within organisations, or a general programme with a cohort of individuals from a diverse range of organisations. The programme consists of three units: Understanding Wicked Problems, Tackling Wicked Problems by Building Adaptive Communities and Tackling Wicked Problems by Strengthening the Government-Community Interface.

In the initial unit of the programme, participants define the boundary of their solution ecosystem: the geographical boundary and the wicked problem. Thereafter, participants enter all the initiatives and organizations within that geographical boundary that are addressing any of the underpinning causal factors of their targeted wicked problem into the software. This unit provides participants with an understanding of the characteristics of complex (wicked) problems, and reasons for using a complexity approach to address complex (wicked) problems. Subsequently, for each of the initiatives that were previously entered into the software, participants record in the software if the initiative has any of the characteristics that assist communities to transition to a new state that has increased coherence and performance. This unit provides participants with the understanding, knowledge and skills required to assist communities in strengthening their adaptive dynamics and transition to new ways of working that have increased system functioning and performance. Finally, participants enter into the software whether any of the initiatives have characteristics that strengthen the interface between community and government systems. This provides participants with the understanding, knowledge and skills required to assist governments to support systemic community innovation and change.

The programme takes an inquiry-based pedagogical approach which includes problem-based and project-based learning. These are systematic teaching methods that engage students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed projects and tasks.

The Complex Systems Leadership Programme is delivered as either a tailored programme for teams within organisations, or a general programme with a cohort of individuals from a diverse range of organisations. It consists of three units of study which are undertaken online during a five or six-month period.

To date, the program’s approach has had limited practical applications and one example worth mentioning is the South West Food Community project, a collaborative network in Western Australia supported by Edith Cowan University which was implemented in mid-2018 to support systemic change within the food security system in Western Australia (WA).

Authored by Viviana Rojas and Catherine Hayward, UIIN.

Featured image from Miguel A. from Pexels.