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Staff Publications

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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

    Full text documents are added when available. The database is updated daily and currently holds about 240,000 items, of which 72,000 in open access.

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Record number 551188
Title A critical assessment of the wicked problem concept: relevance and usefulness for policy science and practice
Author(s) Termeer, Catrien J.A.M.; Dewulf, Art; Biesbroek, Robbert
Source Policy and Society 38 (2019)2. - ISSN 1449-4035 - p. 167 - 179.
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/14494035.2019.1617971
Department(s) WASS
Public Administration and Policy
WIMEK
Publication type Refereed Article in a scientific journal
Publication year 2019
Keyword(s) decision-making - Governance - policy - wicked problems
Abstract

The concept of wicked problems has served as an inspiration for research in a variety of research fields but has also contributed to conceptual confusion through the various ways in which it has been defined and used. In this special issue, a number of ontological, theoretical and methodological issues are discussed. First, while its use as a buzzword has undermined precise conceptual definition, recent work goes beyond the wicked versus tame dichotomy and conceptualizes wickedness as a matter of degree, differentiates between dimensions of wickedness and emphasizes the relational character of problem definitions. Second, new and existing governance approaches have often been unproblematically proposed as ways to solve wicked problems, while only imperfect solutions, partial solutions or small wins are achievable in practice. Third, the concept of wicked problems has had little direct impact on policy theories, and while some argue that the analysis of wicked problems should be mainstreamed in public policy thinking, others propose to reject the concept and rely on existing policy theories. Fourth, as a concept used in policy practice, wicked problems tend to provoke either paralysis or an overestimation of what policy can do about wicked problems. Possible ways forward include (1) leaving the concept behind; (2) using the wicked problems literature as knowledge base to understand when and why policy and governance approaches fail; and (3) developing dimensions of wicked problems (i.e. conflict, complexity and uncertainty) into more analytically precise research tools and linking them with more closely with contemporary policy science developments.

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