Is Civic Literacy a ‘Wicked Problem’?

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By Sheila Suess Kennedy


businessman showing business concept on wallIn 1973, Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber published an influential article on the nature of social problems. Titled “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” the article focused upon the difficulty of solving what the authors called “wicked problems,” and it triggered an ongoing scholarly discussion about the nature of such problems and the differences between efforts to craft social policies and the “tamer,” more linear approaches appropriate to the solution of scientific problems.

Given the robust literature documenting U.S. citizens’ persistent deficit of civic knowledge, it is reasonable to ask whether low civic literacy should be categorized as a “wicked problem” and approached from that perspective. This article considers this question and the implications of such a categorization.