Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination

 by Valerie A. Brown, John A. Harris and Jacqueline Y. Russell

From climate change to genetically modified foods, we Tackling Wicked Problemsare increasingly confronted with complex, interconnected social and environmental problems that span disciplines, knowledge bases and value systems.

Tacking Wicked Problems offers an open transdisciplinary approach for those working towards resolving these ‘wicked’ problems, and highlights the crucial role of this ‘transdisciplinary imagination’ in addressing the shift to a sustainable future. Most importantly, it offers a number of bold propositions about how we might reconfigure our social discourse in making decisions about complex issues.

In this way, Tackling Wicked Problems provides readers with a framework for, and practical examples that will guide the design and conduct of, their own open-ended inquiries. With this approach, academic disciplines are combined with personal, local and strategic understanding, and research is required to recognise multiple knowledge cultures, accept the inevitability of uncertainty, and clarify the readers’ own and others’ ethical positions.

In Part I: The Ideas, a health scientist, a philosopher, an ecologist, a psychologist and a human ecologist set up a comprehensive program for imaginative transdisciplinary inquiry.

In Part 2: The Practice, fifteen authors provide short research papers of their own, in the spirit of the integrating framework. The framework urges acceptance of different views of the world, multiple ways of knowing that world, and using the imagination to try to understand and act in that world. In addition, these studies acknowledge the responsibility of being open about the ethical basis for the inquiry, and recognising that the result can never be complete or final. Through this work, we have a glimpse of a comprehensive picture of a different form of decision-making – collective inquiry.

In 2011, Tackling Wicked Problems won the Society for Human Ecology’s Gerald L. Young Book Award

Reviews of Tackling Wicked Problems 

Tackling Wicked Problems is a timely volume that deserves a wide, global readership.’

‘I am really delighted to see a work that provides a philosophical foundation for Post-Normal Science, while enriching and expanding its vision. Valerie Brown and her colleagues – really comrades –have achieved the new synthesis for a scientific practice that is so necessary for the current age. At last there is a statement for science that leaves behind the linear logic and truncated self-awareness that was the heritage of Descartes. With its themes of plurality, paradox, complementarity and ethical commitment, Tackling Wicked Problems provides the means for science to make a creative response to the challenges of our time.’
Jerome Ravetz, James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization, University of Oxford, UK

Tackling Wicked Problems is a timely, inspirational and important book. Complex and “wicked problems” are common and growing –within societies, regions, locally and globally. They are found in relation to many issues including environmental, human health, urban planning and transport. Importantly, the cross-connections between issues are typically part of the complexity. So far our decision-making processes have not served us well in addressing these issues. Yet the need for more effective decision-making processes is urgent, with anthropogenic climate change perhaps the prime example of a wicked problem in need of urgent action. This book provides an excellent analysis of the inadequacies of our current approaches and the benefits of frameworks based on open transdisciplinary inquiry for addressing ‘wicked problems’. It complements this theoretical basis with a strong set of practical examples of open transdisciplinary inquiry by 15 authors from across the natural and social sciences, the humanities, environmental and public sector management, political science and community activism. Tackling Wicked Problems should have an important place in both under- and post-graduate courses across a range of University faculties. But it deserves (and we need) it to be far more widely read –by decision-makers in both the public and private sectors and all of us interested in more effective action on the many current and emerging “wicked problems” that threaten to undermine humanity’s future.’
Ronnie Harding, foundation director, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW, Australia

‘One of the critical questions posed by the ecological crisis concerns the nature of the knowledge we need to deal with it. Tackling Wicked Problems tackles the problem by offering a unique transdisciplinary approach to inquiry, one that is capable of integrating the natural and social sciences. Integrating both empirical and normative investigation, it offers a framework that is at the same time theoretical, epistemological and practical. The book brings together the full range of separate but yet interconnected perspectives that have to be brought to bear on the most challenging questions of our time.’
Frank Fischer, professor of politics and international studies, Rutgers University, USA

‘You owe it to yourself to read the book for your answer.’
Gail Purvis, Compute Scotland

Tackling Wicked Problems takes a bold path to show that there are different ways – which remain more faithful to embodied reality –of making knowledge work for us.’
Mike Hulme, ECOS