Wicked Solutions: major influences

Mapping relationships in the cloud at kumu.io

Linking systems thinkers     The world of systems thinking is a complex one, which is funny because much systems thinking is designed to deal with complexity, not create more of it. Part of the problem is situated in the fact that systems thinkers (and other academics) do not always care to give a clear idea where their ideas come from. Of course, there is the requirement of paying one´s intellectual dues in the form of citation, paraphrasing, and references. But this may work as a smokescreen, because it doesn´t distinguish between key sources and more accidental ones.

Wicked Solutions…      by Williams & Van ‘t Hof (2014) isn´t a work of science, but rather a practical work of synthesis. It was written by us to enable people unacquainted with systems ideas to apply basic systems concepts directly to a wicked problem of their own. To this end we developed a process composed of steps that derive from the work of others. These steps include: rich picture drawing; stakeholder analysis; stake identification; ideal mapping; boundary critique; stakeholding entrenchment and development; and option one-and-a-half. We added some more steps of our own, to make sure the whole process works without a hitch. Most notably, Bob added his idea of framing, which is a clever concept for overcoming key perspectival differences among stakeholders.

Where our ideas come from…      …is the title of one of the closing chapters of Wicked Solutions. In it we acknowledge the contributions of two key figures in the systems field: Peter Checkland, a Briton, and C. West Churchman, an American. But at various other places in the book we mention a number of others that are equally important or that influenced us personally. What I attempted to do in the kumu map is to provide a simpler, yet more complete overview of influences on Wicked Solutions. The influence map for Wicked solutions can be found at https://kumu.io/Sjon/wicked-solutions-major-influences.

What does the map show?        At the center is part of the image of the book cover. If one clicks on it, one is provided with a brief description in the left panel. In a similar way it shows the two authors, each with his own description or narrative in the left panel if you click on their images. In green, I indicated key systems methods or approaches that were used in the book. Finally, the map shows key figures, their institutions, and the linkages between all these various elements. All in all, the map contains 22 elements and 31 inter-relationships or connections, which makes for a lot of information.

More about Kumu        Kumu is fairly simple and intuitive, yet powerful. It did take me a few hours to make the Wicked Solutions map, though, but that’s in large part because of the narrative one can add to each element and connection in the left panel of each kumu map. It does not only have elements and connections, which can be used for network mapping as I did in the Wicked Solutions example. It also has loops, allowing it to be used for creating causal loop diagrams for systems mapping. Finally, Kumu can also be used for infographics, quickly translating existing data into and interactive maps. Clustering is a way for quickly viewing connections between elements based on any attribute.

Alternatives to Kumu      It is clear that Kumu is great for presenting information that is already organized in a way. It could replace Prezi or Powerpoint in a very useful way. For many applications involving meaningful learning I will continue to prefer Concept maps, see elsewhere in this blog. Kumu can also complement the stock-and-flow simulator Insightmaker. My interest in Kumu is mostly in improving the presentation and easy comprehensibility of the complex insights of the IPB table at the end of the Wicked Solutions process.


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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