CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new book about past ”wicked problems” that have confounded society, the economy, the environment and politics may help guide the nation through its current era of political polarization and complex issues.
Scholars say so-called wicked problems usually involve social, economic, environmental and political issues. In a new book, just published by the Oregon State University Press, a group of scholars has written a series of essays to address these challenges and propose an assortment of problem-solving methodologies to tackle wicked problems.
The essays were solicited and edited by Edward Weber, Denise Lach and Brent Steel of the School of Public Policy at Oregon State, and compiled into “New Strategies for Wicked Problems: Science and Solutions in the 21st Century.” It is available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-621-2736, or by ordering online at osupress.oregonstate.edu
“The book will appeal to scholars, students and decision-makers wrestling with wicked problems and ‘post-normal’ science settings beyond simply environment and natural resource-based issues,” said Marty Brown, marketing manager for the OSU Press. “At the same time, it will provide much-needed guidance to policymakers, citizens, public managers and other stakeholders.”
One such issue addresses the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking.” Written by Christopher Weible and Tanya Heikkila of the University of Colorado-Denver, the essay explores how professional expertise, personal values, and affiliation with different groups affects how people approach the issue – and how the process might be regulated.
Robert Lackey, a fisheries biologist who has worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and OSU, tackles the issue of wild salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. He argues that the science and technology to restore wild salmon runs is available, but the solutions ultimately would be too restrictive and divisive to succeed. The billions of dollars spent on salmon recovery to make minute inroads into the solution might be considered “guilt money,” he says.
“It is money spent on activities not likely to achieve recovery of wild salmon, but it helps people feel better as they continue the behaviors and choices that preclude the recovery of wild salmon,” Lackey wrote.
In their concluding essay, editors Weber, Lach and Steel explore whether there is need for a new social contract for scientists and policy implementation. They argue that plans to address issues are often rushed and lack sufficient time for implementation – and the timetable for addressing such issues rarely matches funding cycles. Additionally, leadership needs training – not only on issues, but on how to engage stakeholders and collaborate on processes.
They wrote: “… We also hope to energize the scholarly and practitioner-based conversations and real-world practices around these topics in ways that help leaders and stakeholders imagine new possibilities, conduct new experiments in implementation, and, ultimately, make even more progress in the ongoing, difficult battle against wicked problems and their less-than-desirable effects for society as a whole.”