Wicked Solutions: library and database information

Wicked solutions: a systems approach to complex problems

New systems book         Wicked problems are ubiquitous, both in the developed and in the developing world. Systems approaches have been developed to deal with them more effectively. In June 2014, a workbook was launched to provide a practical introduction to the nuts and bolts of applying such a systems approach to wicked problems, using a step-by-step model. This newly developed model is illustrated with a fully worked example about the failure of making pump-assisted irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa sustainable to show how to apply the model for outlining a systemic alternative.

Citation info        The full citation info of our book can be downloaded from the Zotero Group WickedDesign or from the National Library of New Zealand. For some quick copy-and-paste you can also use below information:

  • Williams, Bob and Sjon van ’t Hof. 2014. Wicked solutions: a systems approach to complex problems (First edition). Wellington, New Zealand: Bob Williams. Available from http://gum.co/wicked

Abstract        Three basic systems concepts – inter-relationships, perspectives and boundaries – are used to provide a practical introduction to the nuts and bolts of applying a systems approach to wicked problems. The intended audience includes students and professionals who were not previously acquainted with systems thinking in general and soft systems thinking in particular. The two key influences that informed the book are Peter Checkland and C. West Churchman. It is styled as a workbook with three levels. At the most advanced level the reader is guided through 10 steps: (1) issue selection; (2) rich picture drawing; (3) stakeholder analysis; (4) stake identification; (5) formulation of insightful framings to create an initial, unifying view of the situation; (6) rich picture exploration; (7) outlining the ideal situation; (8) boundary critique, involving answering a large number of critical questions that were formulated using a heuristic composed of 12 categories; (9) developing innovative corrective action using a method called stakeholding development and entrenchment; and (10) synthesising ‘is’ and ‘ought’ world views using a dialectical method known as option one-and-a-half. The model is illustrated with a fully worked example about the failure of making pump-assisted irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa sustainable. The case results are synthesised in a so-called IPB table, where IPB stands for the initial letters of the 3 basic systems concepts used.


  • Library of Congress: System theory, Management science, Sustainable development, Case studies, Africa, Agriculture–Economic aspects–Africa, Sub-Saharan; Farms, Small–Economic aspects–Africa, Sub-Saharan; Rural development–Africa, Sub-Saharan.
  • Agrovoc terms (FAO): project design, development projects, systems analysis, sustainable development, socioeconomic development, social business, irrigation, pumps, West Africa, small farms, rural areas
  • UNBIS terms: development projects, design, systems analysis, social systems, sustainable development, enterprise development, business services, rural areas, irrigation farming, small farms.

About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see https://csl4d.wordpress.com/ or http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html
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