Many problems in math or puzzles can be solved with a number of different methods such as trial and error, brainstorming, and reductionism. Many of these problems could be called static or well defined.
However, what happens when you run into a problem that is incomplete, or has requirements that continue to change? This is a problem that is much more difficult to solve, and is referred to as being a "wicked problem." The idea of wicked problems were first developed by H. J. Rittel and M. Webber. The solutions to wicked problems are hard to solve because the elements that compose them continue to change.
When you attempt to solve a wicked problem, you may find that the solution may create yet another problem. Some excellent examples of subjects were wicked problems can be found are political or environmental issues. To give you a question that could be defined as a wicked problem, how would you use war to fight against terrorism? This is a trick question that is not easy to answer. Terrorism can be hard to define, and some would say that war is a form of terrorism. To them, using war to stop terrorism doesn’t make much sense.
Any problem that requires a large number of people to solve it is called a wicked problem. The reason why these types of problems are hard to solve is because they will require a large segment of the population to change their views, and this is extremely challenging. While solving a wicked problem may be next to impossible, Rittel did create a system that would make the problems easier to manage. This system is called IBIS, or Issues Based Information System. It will allow large numbers of people to break down problems into both questions and arguments. Since this time, a number of computerized tools have been developed as well.
Wicked problems are so difficult that they simply cannot be solved by one person. Scientists have had to resort to using computers in order to assist them. They are taking the concepts that were developed by Rittel, and are using them in the creation of software. The first step in solving a wicked problem is to structure and analyze it. The proper name for this is Morphological analysis. There are four rules that are associated with a wicked problem. First, the problem will not be well defined until a solution as been created. The second rule is that stakeholders will have different views when it comes to understanding the problem.
The third rule is that the resources and barriers involved with solving the problem will continue to change as time goes on. The four rule is that the problem can never be completely solved. There are no unlimited solutions with wicked problems, and every wicked problem will be connected to another problem. Any lessons which are learned from a wicked problem cannot be used to solve other wicked problems, because each wicked problem is different.
The only way to come close to solving a wicked problem is to have a large group work together. In a sense, if a large group of people can get together and brainstorm, this may allow some relevant solutions to be developed. However, these problems can only be solved with creative methods. Logic is not as useful in solving wicked problems as it is in solving other problem types. The biggest disadvantage to coming up with a solution to a wicked problem is that the solution will always have consequences, and these consequences will lead to another problem.
For example, to solve the energy crisis in the US, some have talked about drilling in Alaska. While this may be a "solution" to the energy crisis, the environmental impact that may result from it will cause another problem. There are no solutions to wicked problems which are correct or incorrect. They are only worse or better. There is also no way to test quickly test a solution for a wicked problem. The tests may take months or even years.
Wicked problems are evidence that problems are designed to exist. There is no way to solve them completely. You may have heard people say that "the only thing that is certain is death and taxes." The person who said that is not entirely correct. They forgot to include problems. It is not a matter of "if" you will run into problems throughout your life. It is a matter of "how" you deal with them.