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Introduction: Governing Wicked Problems

dc.contributor.authorRuhl, J.B.
dc.contributor.authorSalzman, James
dc.identifier.citation73 Vand. L. Rev. 1561 (2020)en_US
dc.descriptionarticle published in a law reviewen_US
dc.description.abstract"Wicked problems." It just says it all. Persistent social problems--poverty, food insecurity, climate change, drug addiction, pollution, and the list goes on--seem aptly condemned as wicked. But what makes them wicked, and what are we to do about them? The concept of wicked problems as something more than a generic description has its origins in the late 1960s. Professor Horst Rittel of the University of California, Berkeley, Architecture Department posed the term in a seminar to describe "that class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing." Rittel and his colleague Melvin Webber later refined the concept in a 1973 publication, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, in which they developed their now-famous list of ten distinguishing properties of wicked problems. ... To a large extent, however, the fame of Rittel and Webber's ten-point list has overshadowed the deeper governance theory they developed in their article. The vast majority of the publications citing Rittel and Webber's article do so simply to adopt the concept of wicked problems, with a quick sentence or two about what Rittel and Webber had in mind about wickedness (often with The List set out), to fit the problem under consideration into that category of social problems. It is as if without the prefix "wicked" a problem is not worthy of scholarly attention. This is overwhelmingly the pattern in legal scholarship: the author claims a social problem is a wicked problem, cites Rittel and Webber, and that is the last we hear of them and of the concept. Only on rare occasion do legal scholars leverage Rittel and Webber more comprehensively, and even then it is usually to crunch through the ten characteristics rather than engage their broader commentary on the challenges of modern governance. The small subset of articles grappling with the wicked problems concept as part of a theory of governance appears mainly in policy science and planning journals. The purpose of this Article is to close that gap--to provide in legal scholarship a concise summary of wicked problems theory from its roots in Rittel and Webber's article through its evolution in policy science and planning scholarship. Not coincidentally, this sets the stage for introducing the theme of the Vanderbilt Law Review's 2019 Symposium, Governing Wicked Problems, and the other articles in this Symposium issue.en_US
dc.publisherVanderbilt Law Reviewen_US
dc.subjectpersistent social problems, policy science, legal scholarshipen_US
dc.titleIntroduction: Governing Wicked Problemsen_US

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