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Wicked Problems and General Morphological Analysis (GMA)

Posted: November 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: General Morphological Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comentarios »

You may like it more or less but what is certain is that life is mainly about solving problems and they are sometimes elusive, confusing, ill-defined… the so-called wicked problems.

As I mentioned in my previous post The Design of Business, wicked problems are ambiguous, evolving, linked to moral, social and political issues and without a clearly defined solution. The classical linear mathematical approach -understand the problem, gather and sum up information, and develop solutions- is not valid for them. As Dr. Tom Ritchey mentioned in one his writings, Rittel and Webber -the ones who coined the term wicked problems in his article “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in 1973- deemed this kind of problems entailed the following features amongst others:

  • There is no definite formulation of a wicked problem; one has to develop a list of likely solutions.
  • Wicked problems don’t have a final or fully correct solution; there are no objective criteria for that; one stop either upon running out of resources or when a result is considered good enough.
  • Solutions to wicked problems are better or worse, they aren’t true or false.
  • Every solution to a wicked problem counts significantly; it’s a one-shot operation.
  • Every wicked problem is unique.
  • The causes of a wicked problem can be explained in several ways. The explanation chosen determines the problem’s resolution.

General Morphological Analysis -developed by the Swiss astrophysicist and aerospace scientist Fritz Zwicky in 1940- is maybe the best method to cope with these problems. It aims to identify and investigate the total set of relationships in multi-dimensional problem complexes. As stated by Dr. Ritchey, it begins by defining the most important dimensions of the problem complex and assigning each dimension several values or conditions. The idea is to examine all the configurations in the morphological field to establish which of them are possible, and at the same time defining a likely solution.

When the morphological field has a significant number of parameters and values, the cross-consistency assessment is implemented in order to reduce the size of the field: all parameters are compared with one-another to check out if the pair can coexist regarding logical contradictions and empirical constraints.

Since 1995 the GMA enjoys computer support -developed at the Swedish Defence Research Agency- which has extended not only its application and functionality areas, but also its ability to deal with enormous sets of parameters and values, so typical of wicked problems.


2 Comments on “Wicked Problems and General Morphological Analysis (GMA)”

  1. 1 Tom Ritchey said at 6:21 pm on November 2nd, 2012:


    Good description of Wicked Problems. I enjoy you site. Will probably be in Madrid earlier next year. Maybe a meeting?


  2. 2 » Blog Archive » The Design of Business by Roger Martin said at 6:04 pm on November 5th, 2012:

    […] the mystery, trying to see new things or to see things in a new way. He is a specialist in solving wicked problems. These problems, according to C. West Churchman, are a class of social system problems which are […]