A SYSTEMIC INTEGRATION APPROACH TO DESIGNING INTERAGENCY RESPONSES TO WICKED PROBLEMS
Keywords:boundary critique, systemic intervention, wicked problems, problem structuring methods, viable system model, interagency collaboration, multi-agency working, systems methodology
Wicked problems are open-ended, highly interdependent issues that cross agency, stakeholder, jurisdictional, political and geopolitical boundaries. This confounds governments because policies and budgets tend to be aligned within these boundaries and not across them, making it difficult to bring the appropriate talent, knowledge and assets into an interagency approach to tackling whatever wicked problem is at hand.
Many governments realize the need for a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to tackling large complex issues, and have employed various methods to achieve interagency and other private/public partnerships. One approach is to employ experts (sometimes called Czars) who are in charge of specific policies and can coordinate input from across government and private entities. Other organizational approaches have focused on forming high-level committees and task forces made up of representation from stakeholder organizations. These approaches are intended to increase cross-government information sharing, identify best-practices, and generate reports that include recommendations to policy makers. However, the formation of these vehicles can be ad hoc and not designed holistically to handle the complexity of wicked problems where interdependencies abound and the perspectives and values of agencies and other stakeholders can often be in conflict. Other complaints about forming these ad hoc groups include the slow, long-term process required to build trust; one agency typically takes the lead, creating problematic power relationships when their own inevitably partial perspective starts to override the perspectives of other agencies; difficulties of reaching agreement on crosscutting agendas; too many meetings; inaction in the face of the above difficulties; and missed opportunities.
The research described in this paper was conducted to develop and evaluate a new Systemic Intervention approach to designing interagency meta-organizations. The term meta-organization is used because it is important to note that this does not have to mean a new official bricks-and-mortar organization, but an organization nonetheless. The term “interagency” is sometimes used to mean this meta-organization. It is a multi-method approach that combines the viable system model (VSM) as the organizational design instrument with participatory problem structuring methods and boundary critique.