How can collective thinking be applied to wicked problems?

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(District Heating Plant, Vienna, Austria (Friedensreich Hundertwasser))

Collective thinking is a more sophisticated way of examining the kinds of wicked problems that Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber identified in their seminal article ‘Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning’ , which was published in Policy Sciences in 1973. It treats wicked problems as a set of issues generated by the society that contains them.

After all, the task is urgent. According to both Tony McMichael in Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease and Lester R. Brown in Vital Signs 2005 , we have less than 30 years to arrive at the unified action needed to ensure a humane future for the earth.

What techniques does collective thinking employ to deal with wicked problems?

In order to explore wicked problems, collective thinking breaks away from the individualistic, stratified and logical model we have used to approach such problems since the Enlightenment, and looks for a more sophisticated way to approach the complex problems that we face not only at the local and national levels but globally.

In response to this challenge, collective thinking treats the complex issues of a sustainable humane future as open-ended and interconnected systems, rather than reducing them to single factors and fixed hierarchies, and demands a realignment of the social structures developed to support the divisions. The task involves establishing that realignment while maintaining all the advantages of specialised inquiry. In other words, collective thinking does not reject Enlightenment thinking out of hand. Instead, it repositions that thinking within a wider perspective that connects the parts and throws light on the whole.

Based on the premise that a humane future for the earth requires a concerted response to the planet’s disintegrating life support systems, collective thinking asks whether it is possible to reorder these powerful divisive systems into a different pattern: one based on collective thinking and collaborative action.

In this way, collective thinking investigates how to break down the barriers we have constructed, and asks us to learn to act collectively, with a shared understanding of the whole, in order to achieve transformational change.

Are you interested in finding out more about how collective thinking can be applied to wicked problems?

Are you interested in how collective thinking can lead to transformational change?

Further reading:

Tackling Wicked ProblemsIn Tackling Wicked Problems, Valerie A. Brown, John A. Harris  and Jacqueline Y. Russell provide a framework for inquiries into the human and environmental problems that we are currently facing.