Wicked Problems

A little editing back-and-forth today introduced me to a fun new policy word: wicked problems. My initial reaction was that the author was writing informally and taking cues from Boston, but it turns out he was using a legitimate vocabulary word. Wikipedia has a few good definitions, but the Australian Public Service Commissioner described it best as:

“The Australian Public Service (APS) is increasingly being tasked with solving very complex policy problems. Some of these policy issues are so complex they have been called ‘wicked’ problems. The term ‘wicked’ in this context is used, not in the sense of evil, but rather as an issue highly resistant to resolution.”

I was also directed toward a wonderful new book that uses the term in its title: Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination. I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that it’s largely a book of methods meant to promote interdisciplinary research for large and complex “wicked” problems, many of which are environmental.

Given the abundance of Australians in the sources provided by a quick Google search, I am guessing that “wicked problems” is largely an Aussie term. But I think we should bring it to other parts of the world.



  1. Karen Hanegan · November 30, 2010

    Amy, thank you for this interesting tidbit; not only was it enlightening, I am forwarding it on to my MANY friends from Oz!

  2. zoologirl · November 30, 2010

    In my undergrad classes, we talked about wicked problems a few times. Unfortunately, it was almost always assumed that we already knew what wicked problems were.

  3. Alan Dove · December 1, 2010

    It should be pretty easy to get it to catch on in New England. It means exactly what people here would expect it to mean.

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