Comment 76715

By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 09, 2012 at 17:48:46

Horst Rittel coined the term wicked problem, while teaching design and architecture over 30 years. Although he never practiced architecture he managed to change the field of design by linking design and politics.

Rittel introduced several fundamental ideas:

  • Simple problems (problems which are already defined) are easy to solve, because defining a problem inherently defines a solution.
  • The definition of a problem is subjective; it comes from a point of view. Thus, when defining problems, all stake-holders, experts, and designers are equally knowledgeable (or unknowledgeable).
  • Some problems cannot be solved, because stake-holders cannot agree on the definition. These problems are called wicked, but sometimes they can be tamed.
  • Solving simple problems may lead to improvement—but not innovation. For innovation, we need to re-frame wicked problems.
  • Because one person cannot possibly remember or keep track of all the variables (of both existing and desired states) in a wicked problem, taming wicked problems requires many people.
  • These people have to talk to each other; they have to deliberate; they have to argue.
  • To tame a wicked problem, they have to agree on goals and actions for reaching them. This requires knowledge about actions, not just facts.
  • Science is concerned with factual knowledge (what-is); design is concerned with instrumental knowledge (how what-is relates to what-ought-to-be), how actions can meet goals.
  • The process of argumentation is the key and perhaps the only method of taming wicked problems.
  • This process is political.
  • Design is political.

"In response to the perceived failures of early attempts at systematic design, Rittel introduced the concept of 'second generation design methods' and a planning/design method known as Issues Based Information Systems (IBIS) for handling wicked problems."

Has 'two-way streets' become the default solution to Hamilton downtown's many poorly defined problems?

Note: I will be hosting a series of Urban Design Workshops starting next month. The first in this series is called "Taming the Main" - which aims to examine Main Street from McMaster to Gage, block-by-block, with a view to re-framing issues; and via a collective visioning process, develop block specific solutions to humanize this monstrous artery which has impacted the cultural and economic viability of our downtown. All here are welcome to this event which will be held in the International Village - (details will be posted here soon).

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