WhatIF Lab: Wicked Thinking

Old shack in Queensland, Australia
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Wicked Thinking is a newsletter pioneered by Dr Skye Doherty that aims to shape a better future. The creators collaborate across disciplines and use research, workshops, stories, and provocations to think about the world's big challenges and what we can do to address them.

As trust in institutions erodes and the scale and complexity of problems increase, we need creative, radical ideas about how to respond.

We need wicked thinking.

The Challenge

Since engineers, Horst Rittell and Melville Webber coined the term ‘wicked problems’ in 1973 the concept has been used to discuss a wide range of complex social, political, environmental, and economic issues. Think climate change, energy policy, poverty, biodiversity, or any of the UN Sustainability Goals.

What characterises these issues is their complexity: they are difficult to define, the constraints change over time, and we often don’t know what a good solution looks like.

Wickedness isn’t just about the degree of difficulty in finding an answer to a problem, it can also be about the causes of the problem, the fact that one wicked problem can lead to another, or the lack of a ‘right’ answer. This differentiates ‘wicked’ problems from the ‘tame’ ones that we already know how to solve, like, how to build a bridge or grow a tomato (although climate change or a lack of biodiversity could certainly prompt a wicked turn on these fronts).

The Solution

The ideas, stories, art and provocations in Wicked Thinking are designed to help readers think, imagine and act.

The contributors are not predicting the future. They are imagining how to construct a better one. Their aim is to think about what might be and what we can do today to create a better tomorrow.

The Impact

Wicked problems call for wicked thinking about how to manage issues or design radical alternatives. That’s where the newsletter comes in. As a forum for imagining alternative futures, it considers what needs to change in the present and what the possible consequences might be. It is a call to ‘think, imagine, act’.