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Wicked problems // wicked thinking

A manifesto.
Wicked problems // wicked thinking
Photo by Mika Baumeister / Unsplash

Wicked Thinking is a newsletter about alternative social futures.

It is a digest of ideas, stories and provocations about the world's big challenges and what we can do to address them.

As trust in institutions erodes and the scale and complexity of problems increase, we need creative, radical ideas about how to respond.

We need wicked thinking.

Since engineers, Horst Rittell and Melville Webber coined the term ‘wicked problems’ in 1973 the concept has been used to discuss a wide range of complex social, political, environmental and economic issues.

Think climate change, energy policy, poverty, biodiversity, or any of the UN Sustainability Goals.

What characterises these issues is their complexity: they are difficult to define, the constraints change over time, and we often don’t know what a good solution looks like.

Wickedness isn’t just about the degree of difficulty in finding an answer to a problem, it can also be about the causes of the problem, the fact that one wicked problem can lead to another, or the lack of a ‘right’ answer.

This differentiates ‘wicked’ problems from the ‘tame’ ones that we already know how to solve, like, how to build a bridge or grow a tomato (although climate change or a lack of biodiversity could certainly prompt a wicked turn on these fronts).

Wicked problems call for wicked thinking about how to manage issues or design radical alternatives. That’s where our newsletter comes in.

Think, imagine, act

Wicked Thinking is a forum for imagining alternative futures. It considers what needs to change in the present and what the possible consequences might be.

Inspired by critical designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby we use storytelling, art and design to spark discussion about the challenges we face and collectively imagine novel responses.

Some of our speculations are utopian, some are dystopian, and some are mundane. Our aim is to think about what might be and what we can do today to create a better tomorrow.

Our ideas, stories, art and provocations are designed to help you think, imagine and act.

We are not predicting the future. We are imagining how to construct a better one.
Our aim is to think about what might be and what we can do today to create a better tomorrow.

You're invited

We invite creative thinkers to share their insights and speculate on what might be. If you'd like to contribute, get in touch via wicked@skyedoherty.com

Or you can:

  • Subscribe to and share our newsletter;
  • Respond to calls for contributions;
  • Follow us on Instagram.

In future, we plan to organise webinars and online workshops.

Find out more

Tackling wicked problems: a public policy perspective, Australian Government (2018) https://www.apsc.gov.au/tackling-wicked-problems-public-policy-perspective

‘Wicked Problems’ in Public interest Communication. Jane Johnston & Robyn Gulliver (2022) https://uq.pressbooks.pub/publicinterestcomm/

Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, Horst Rittell and Melville Webber (1973) Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169. https://www.sympoetic.net/Managing_Complexity/complexity_files/1973 Rittel and Webber Wicked Problems.pdf

An overview of contemporary speculative practice, SpeculativeEdu, https://speculativeedu.eu/an-overview-of-contemporary-speculative-practice/

Speculative Everything: design, fiction and social dreaming. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby https://readings.design/PDF/speculative-everything.pdf