Dedicated to Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems

Horst Rittel's Legacy

Chanpory Rith and Hugh Dubberly

Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel taught design and architecture for over 30 years, yet he never designed a building or otherwise practiced as an architect. (We might now recognize him as a design planner.) Even so, Rittel changed the field of design—linking design and politics—and started a line of inquiry which continues today in the field of computer programming and information science—design rationale. [Full article]

Werner Kunz and Horst W. J. Rittel

Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) are meant to support coordination and planning of political decision processes. IBIS guides the identification, structuring, and settling of issues raised by
problem-solving groups, and provides information pertinent to the discourse. It is linked to conventional documentation systems but also activates other sources. Elements of the system are topics, issues, questions of fact, positions, arguments, and model problems. The logic of issues, the subsystems of IBIS, and their rules of operation are outlined. Three manually operated versions of IBIS are in experimental operation by governmental agencies; computerization of system operations is in preparation.

Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are "wicked" problems, whereas science has developed to deal with "tame" problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about "optimal solutions" to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no "solutions" in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

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