A Wicked Methodology for the Analysis of Wicked Problems: Integrating the Analysis of Meetings and Networks

Christina Wasson, Julia Gluesing


One feature of the Anthropocene is the rise of large-scale environmental problems produced by human actions. A pressing problem is how to manage these environmental problems effectively. Their governance is often challenging because different stakeholder groups disagree on what the appropriate course of action should be. Furthermore, the problems are often complex, and scientific knowledge about them may contain significant gaps and uncertainties. We are interested in understanding the most challenging of these situations, which are often termed “wicked problems,” and what effective environmental governance might look like under those conditions. In this paper, we report on a new, integrative methodology we have developed for analyzing governance processes by examining communications both within an environmental decision-making group and across the stakeholder networks within which the group is embedded. Shaped by a systems perspective, our methodology weaves together multiple theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches, forms of data, and levels of analysis. Very few previous studies have closely examined the actual decision-making process in participatory meetings, or situated these meetings in the broader stakeholder network interactions within which they are embedded. Our approach redresses this significant gap in the literature. For our field site, we selected a commission that was formed to develop recommendations for a new municipal ordinance on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). In order to preserve the anonymity of the commission, we do not identify the geographic region in which the commission was located, other than to say it was in the United States. Fracking exhibits all of the features associated with wicked problems, including multiple stakeholders with conflicting values, scientific uncertainty, and political complexity.


Integrative analysis; social-environmental systems; wicked problems; anthropology; participatory decision-making

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