In April, my friend Peter Macleod inspired me with his MASSLBP Wish List, which he sent out in a newsletter to MASSLBP’s network. Peter was in turn inspired by a Christmas card message: “work for what you wish for”. Expressing the intention, out loud, for all to see, of the kind of work that you want made a lot of sense to me.
Fired up by the success of our recent collaboration at the Collingwood Conference, my frequent collaborator Daniel Rose started a conversation about our dream projects. These are projects that can take full advantage of our capabilities and that also really push us in our practice while making a big difference in the world. We referred to this cheekily as “Project Mongoose”, but really what we’re talking about are Wicked Projects.
Addressing Wicked Problems
What is a wicked project? A wicked project first of all aims to address a wicked problem. Wicked problems are all around us: climate change, economic transformation, poverty, healthcare, urban transportation and human migration to name just a few. Solving wicked problems is meaningful, purposeful work. They’re complex, intertwined, ambiguous, messy and frustrating. Wicked problems fight back as you try to solve them.
The projects that would make our wish list would be centered on one of these problems. Our role is not to be the content expert in the chosen field. Our role is to bring both proven and novel processes and tools to these projects while working with and learning from some of the smartest people we can find.
A Wicked Project would have the following characteristics:
- There is a Wicked Problem at the centre
- The organizations launching the project would be a multi-stakeholder partnership, network or alliance
- Members would include private, public and non-profit organizations driven by passionate individuals
- Members have realized that conventional approaches have not been working, that deeper insight, greater engagement, more collaborative action and more iterative processes are required
- There is consensus in the network that the time is right for new, reinvigorated action – but exactly what action is hotly debated
- Stakeholder engagement is seen as central to success, not an afterthought, required to gather data, develop insights and create strategies for action
- Acting requires engaged commitment from a large number of actors, most of whom the project sponsors have no direct control over
- The project operates simultaneously at a number of scales: national, regional and local
- Project participants have a genuine willingness to learn and adopt new tools, methods and practices
- Strategy is seen as a verb, not a noun: a creative, iterative and ongoing process, informed by new evidence sensed at the edges of the system
If you read the above and said to yourself “that’s us!”, then we should talk. Dan and I are looking to speak to as many prospective Wicked Project proponents that we can to explore the methods, processes and practices to tap the collective intelligence of these networks to create profound, meaningful change.
A 52 Week Blogging Project
With this post, I am also launching a 52 week blogging project on the methods, processes and practices being developed around the world to address wicked problems. It’s a way for me to give focus to my own research and learning program, bring new life to what has been of late a pretty dormant blog space here at Remarkk.com and as a way to learn from and share with the many social innovation, human process and systems thinking gurus that have inspired me. Next week, I will focus more on the definition of a wicked problem and its characteristics.
Who should be on my reading list for Wicked Projects? Who are the gurus who inspire you? What are the key processes, methods and tools to tackling wicked problems?