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Wicked Problems

When I tell people that the core purpose of The Edge of Chaos is to tackle Wicked Problems, I’m not being flip or just trying to be edgy. The phrase “Wicked Problems” actually goes back to the late 60s. The wikipedia entry says it describes “a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.” Many of the problems we face with urban planning, public health, or the challenges of living in a complex multicultural society fall into the realm of wicked problems. It’s not that they’re evil – they’re just really tough.

Wicked problems don’t generally get “solved” – the goal is to make incremental improvements in the situation. And sometimes, innovative leaps. That requires bringing lots of different viewpoints and areas of expertise to the table. You need public health experts and sociologists and historians and chemists and engineers and poets and painters and philosophers. Here in Birmingham, we have all of those. The purpose of The Edge of Chaos is to find ways of bringing those people together – to tackle Wicked Problems.

T. Scott Plutchak

Interim Director, The Edge of Chaos