ASTU 401G – Wicked Problems in Community Development

Course Overview

ASTU 401G – Wicked Problems in Community Development is an upper-level Faculty of Arts course running in January – April 2018. Registration for the course is currently open. Limited seats available.

Eligibility Criteria

Open to all UBC students with a minimum 3rd year standing by January 2018.

Course Description

“WICKED” problems are societal issues that are heavily laden with politics and value judgments; students should graduate knowing how to identify, navigate and participate in solving these complex issues.

Focusing upon a case-study situated in India and utilizing the transdisciplinary tools of systems theory, forum theatre, critical systems heuristics, strategic design and, of course, current best practices in international community engagement, this course will engage students in a probing, practice-based dialogue exploring contemporary approaches to the “taming” of “wicked problems” in an international community development context.

Further explanation of identified “Wicked” problems

In their influential paper of 1972, design scientist, Horst W. J. Rittel and city planner, Melvin M. Webber, coined the term “wicked” to describe “problems of governmental planning – and especially those of social or policy planning” that are “ill defined; and […] rely upon elusive political judgment for resolution.”  They considered these problems to be of a fundamentally different nature to “problems in the natural sciences, which are definable and separable and may have solutions that are findable.”   According to Rittel and Webber, the intrinsic complexity of such “wicked problems” as poverty, homelessness, and environmental degradation could not be solved but only “tamed” or “at best […] re-solved – over and over again.”  Perhaps the single greatest consistent contributor to “wickedness” is the lack of consensus among stakeholders as to the correct description of the problem itself, let alone the nature of any possible intervention.  This vexing conundrum is often due to differing tacit judgments regarding the “boundaries” of the “system or area of concern” to be addressed (i.e. Should an intervention to address homelessness include strategies around education and employment?) as well as a lack of clarity regarding the specific socio-political contexts and power distributions within any particular development context.  The ways that these often unvoiced assumptions can surreptitiously constrain dialogue and action can be particularly acute when well-intentioned citizens from the “developed world” attempt to participate in community development projects with vulnerable populations in parts of the “developing world.”

Course Objectives

This course will foster students’ ability to address wicked problems by:

  1. Engaging with community research and development partners’ real wicked problems from international development contexts
  2.  Building a strategic design skill set to create potential interventions for “Wicked Problems”
  3. Analyzing potential interventions using Critical Systems Heuristics

Additional Details

This course will be taught on campus in its entirety at UBC and will use various technologies to engage international community partners to present wicked problems that they are currently grappling with.