Wicked Environmental Problems

  • Balint P
  • Stewart R
  • Desai A
  • et al.
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207 In chapter 1, we briefly mentioned some historical factors that may contrib-ute to the transformation of complicated problems into wicked problems. These include broad, structural socioeconomic and demographic changes and also more immediate triggering events that polarize public debate and shift the political dynamics of environmental management dilemmas. Here we explore these themes in more detail. We also present and discuss three take-home lessons for public managers. We suggest that a public manager facing a wicked problem should (1) stop looking for the perfect solution; (2) seek instead a satisficing response; and (3) consider applying the itera-tive, analytic, adaptive, participatory process described in this book (par-ticularly in chapters 6–9). In this closing chapter, we take the perspective of the public manager. Despite our emphasis in previous chapters on public participation and stakeholder engagement, the public manager retains a special position. The public manager is the person at the center of the controversy, pulled in vari-ous directions by interest groups, activists, local community members, the private sector, the broader public, the courts, the media, elected officials at various levels, and the agency and administration leadership in the state and national capitals. Moreover, the public manager may be the person most likely to recognize that he or she is facing a wicked problem, and thus most Chapter 10 Managing Wicked Environmental Problems 207 , P.J. Balint et al., Wicked Environmental Problems: Managing Uncertainty and Conflict DOI 10.5822/978-1-61091-047-7_10, © Island Press 2011 208 wicked environmental problems likely to be in position to initiate the enhanced learning network process that we recommend. Most important, the public manager is the person required by law and job description to make and implement environmental management decisions. In focusing on the public manager's perspective in this closing chapter, we draw on the experience of Ron Stewart, one of the authors of this book. Ron was regional forester for the Sierra Nevada national forests in the early 1990s. In retrospect, we can see that this was the time when forest plan-ning in the region changed from being a complicated problem to being a wicked problem. As is the case with many public managers immersed in the demands of the moment, however, Ron did not have the opportunity when wrestling with the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment process to integrate the relevant literature from diverse disciplines and apply it to his highly pressurized situation. Nor did he have time to consider the broad social changes that had shifted the policy ground beneath his feet. Conse-quently he did not have a name or a big-picture explanation for the new wickedness that was making his job so difficult. After examining the topic with some scholarly detachment over the past several years, however, Ron and the rest of us on the research team have come to what we believe is a richer understanding of the dilemma that he faced in the Sierra Nevada, and that other public managers con-tinue to face in the United States and elsewhere. While we focus on public managers, we believe that the recommendations and insights summarized in this chapter will also be useful for other public and private stakeholders involved in wicked problems and for scholars and students interested in policy processes in these challenging circumstances.




Balint, P. J., Stewart, R. E., Desai, A., & Walters, L. C. (2011). Wicked Environmental Problems. Wicked Environmental Problems. Island Press/Center for Resource Economics. https://doi.org/10.5822/978-1-61091-047-7

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