eCite Digital Repository

The enduring challenge of ‘wicked problems’: revisiting Rittel and Webber


Crowley, K and Head, BW, The enduring challenge of wicked problems': revisiting Rittel and Webber, Policy Sciences, 50, (4) pp. 539-547. ISSN 0032-2687 (2017) [Non Refereed Article]

PDF (Policy Sciences. 50(4), 539-547 DOI: 10.1007/s11077-017-9302-4)
Pending copyright assessment - Request a copy

DOI: doi:10.1007/s11077-017-9302-4


There is, in the twenty-first century, an intense interest in the nature of wicked problems and the complex tasks of identifying their scope, viable responses, and appropriate mechanisms and pathways towards achieving improvement. This preoccupation is timeless, but the discussion over several decades has benefited from Rittel and Webber’s (Policy Sci 4(2):155–169, 1973) path breaking conceptualisation of wicked problems and the political argumentation needed to resolve them. This review revisits Rittel and Webber’s work and its enduring significance, reflecting upon its broad uptake and impact in the policy sciences, an impact that continues to grow over time. We revisit how the classic 1973 paper came to be published in Policy Sciences, its innovative depiction of social problems, its rejection of rationalistic design, its acknowledgement of the subjectivities involved in problem identification and resolutions, and the consequent need for argumentative-based solution processes. We find great resonance in the paper with contemporary problem solving preoccupations, not least that the political context is crucial, that argumentation must be transparent and robust, and that policy interventions may have consequences that cannot be easily controlled in open and highly pluralised social systems.

Item Details

Item Type:Non Refereed Article
Keywords:wicked problems Rittel Webber collaborative solutions
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Public policy
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in human society
UTAS Author:Crowley, K (Associate Professor Kate Crowley)
ID Code:125257
Year Published:2017
Deposited By:Office of the School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2018-04-10
Last Modified:2018-04-10

Repository Staff Only: item control page