What is a wicked problem? Six hints:
1. You don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution.
Every solution that is offered exposes new aspects of the problem, requiring further adjustments to the potential solutions. There is no definitive statement of ‘the problem’: these problems are ill-structured and feature an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.
2. There is no stopping rule.
Since there is no definitive ‘the problem’, there is also no definitive ‘the solution.’ The problem-solving process ends when you run out of resources such as time, money or energy, not when an optimal solution emerges.
3. Solutions are not right or wrong.
They are simply ‘better/worse’ or ‘good enough/not good enough’. The determination of solution quality is not objective and cannot be derived from following a formula.
4. Each is essentially unique and novel.
No two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted. Over time we can acquire wisdom and experience about the approach to wicked problems, but one is always a beginner in the specifics of a new wicked problem.
5. Every solution is a ‘one-shot operation’.
Every attempt has consequences. This is the ‘Catch 22’ of wicked problems: you can’t learn about the problem without trying solutions, but every solution is expensive and has lasting consequences that may spawn new wicked problems.
6. There is no given alternative solution.
A host of potential solutions may be devised, but another host are never even thought of. Thus it is a matter of creativity to devise potential solutions, and a matter of judgement to determine which should be pursued and implemented.
source: "Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems", by Jeffrey Conklin, 2006