In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and “wicked” denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Another definition is “a problem whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point”. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.
The phrase was originally used in social planning. Its modern sense was introduced in 1967 by C. West Churchman in a guest editorial Churchman wrote in the journal Management Science, responding to a previous use of the term by Horst Rittel. Churchman discussed the moral responsibility of operations research “to inform the manager in what respect our ‘solutions’ have failed to tame his wicked problems.” Rittel and Melvin M. Webber formally described the concept of wicked problems in a 1973 treatise, contrasting “wicked” problems with relatively “tame”, soluble problems in mathematics, chess, or puzzle solving.
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