Friday, 28 January 2011

Wicked oil (3)

How do Rittel's criteria link to the Wicked oil problem?

10 The planner has no right to be wrong

The oil company has no right to be wrong (around the USA)
During the Gulf of Mexico incident, President Obama spoke critically of BP's actions and announced that they would be forced to contribute substantial funds to clean up the area and compensate those affected directly and directly by the oil spill.

9 The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution

The discrepancy between environmentally sound supply and demand was explained by excess consumption and reliance on one energy source
What is less often publicised are President Obama's firm statements about the context of the event. He suggested that it highlighted America's dependence on oil supplies and the need to reduce consumption and consider alternative sources of energy. A new energy policy was proposed, but had a lukewarm reception.

8 Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem

High petrol prices are a symptom of supply problems, exploration costs, environmental protection costs, increasing consumption, unregulated commodity market speculation, population growth, greed, waste, government taxes............

7 Every wicked problem is essentially unique

At first glance the oil crisis can be compared to the global water crisis. There is NO substitute for water in the human body or agriculture, so we cannot explore alternative technology to flush kidneys, transport blood products round the body or enable plants to grow.

6 Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that might be incorporated into the plan

There are no Queensberry Rules for oil production, distribution and consumption. Even FIFA has problems applying their set of rules for the conduct of the World Cup. Sepp Blatter was attacked in South Africa for banning camera technology in deciding disputed decisions by linesmen and referees.

5 Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly

When Russia or the US drill for oil in the Artic, there is no prior experience to indicate the consequences for the environment. Putin can't replace the ice cap if the unintended consequences are disastrous.

4 There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem

How do we know that there is enough oil in reserve for world consumption and that it can be extracted without cost to lives and environment? Is there an oil x-ray/thermometer/infallible algorithm? Nope.

3 Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad

A team of designers set out to design a new fuel efficient car. Firstly they discovered that traditional ways led them to trip over each other in accommodating for different systems. Secondly, when they all
collaborated over a blank sheet of paper, they devised a small car that could drive from West to East coast USA on one tank of petrol. For Western populations, that have embraced the gas guzzling SUV, I imagine this would be tough to accept. For Western politicians perhaps war is more acceptable than risky off shore oil exploration.

2 Wicked problems have no stopping rule

We'll need energy until the planet/the species dies. Oil has many uses beyond fuel and those applications will require substitutes, if possible. Our oil problem may be eclipsed when another energy source becomes the dominant commodity.

1 There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem

We started with: How do we cut petrol prices? This simple question is inextricably linked to a mess of problems, symptoms and proposed solutions. In the UK we are criticised for squandering our oil resources (compared with other countries such as Norway) Scotland is campaigning for independence from the UK, in part so that remaining oil resources benefit Scotland rather than subsidising SE England. There is no consensus on oil prices and their cause:

So what?

Yep this is a wicked problem. We don't walk away and say it's impossible to tackle. Oil exploration companies are working to find and extract sources of oil around the globe. Politicians are balancing the need for tax income to strengthen the economy, the importance of encouraging fuel saving and tax payer resistance to further demands on their money.

Rittel and Webber remind us that wicked problems can be exhausting and frustrating. We need support in tackling them. Realistically our actions may have limited impact, if we have little power and no appetite to jeopardise our job. Krackhardt and Hanson can help amplify the impact of our interventions if we learn to build trust and support informally.

We can start by recognising that a sub-set of the wicked terrain can be tackled and may be phrased as a more Tame and manageable problem. How can we maintain stable oil prices? Seems to be the UK government's problem statement when planning specific tax/subsidy devices. How can we maintain oil supply for the forseeable future? seems to be Russia & BP's problem statement behind the decision to prospect for oil in the Arctic.

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