Reflective Consensus Building on Wicked Problems

(Sketch of the navigation for a team project)

Wicked problems

A wicked problem is a complex problem whose complexity results from the fact that it can be framed in a number of different ways, depending on who is looking at it. The perception of the problem depends on varying interests, needs, goals, background knowledge, world-views, values, or differences regarding the scale on which people think the problem should be addressed.

Examples include:

  • complex policy issues such as health care reform, poverty, global trade, or climate change;
  • the regulation of new and emerging technologies;
  • the design of products and technologies; and
  • planning processes that involve different stakeholders.

Different stakeholders will look at a wicked problem from different perspectives which makes it difficult

  • to define exactly what the problem is
  • to determine whether the problem is addressed on the right level, and
  • to know whether or when the problem has been solved.

In contrast to “tame” problems as we know them from text books, wicked problems do not have one correct solution. If there is a solution at all, it is never simply right or wrong.

Decisions on wicked problems often lead to

  • consequences that are unpredictable and irreversible, and to
  • unethical results when people who are affected by these decisions are overlooked.

And the process of making a decision often leads to

  • confusion when people do not understand that others look at the same problem from a completely different point of view, and to
  • serious conflicts among stakeholders.

Reflective Consensus Building on Wicked Problems

The Reflect! platform is built on three assumptions:

  1. Wicked problems can only be approached in collaboration with others. We need different points of view and we need to learn from others.
  2. Reflection and self-correcting reasoning are crucial. When we deal with wicked problems, we need to correct, time and again, our own reasoning because it is impossible to know in advance all the ways in which the problem can be framed, and all implications of these framing processes. And
  3. Since there is not just one correct “solution” for a wicked problem, the goal can only be to build consensus.

The Reflect! platform organizes activities and collaboration in small teams in a way that realizes a particular strategy to approach wicked problems. This strategy becomes visible in the Reflect! Workplan (enlarge and use the arrows):