Accelerating rates of change are not the only defining characteristics of our globalizing world. In addition, wicked problems and today’s other vexing problems are best viewed through one of a number of mental lenses that are all referred to systems theory.
Unlike earlier, so-called, reductionist world views that broke things down into their separate component parts, systems analysts stress the fact that every element in a system is interconnected to every other one so that what goes around literally comes around.
Political scientists use this simplified model of a national political system. Critical here–as it is in any system–is the notion of feedback through which one individual’s or institution’s actions today influence everyone else’s later on.
Most systems that contain wicked problems cannot be diagrammed in such a simple way.
Instead, they are best understood as far more complex networks as in this other chart.
Elsewhere in this site, we show how you can build a “map” of any interdependent systems that is more complicated than the political system but is simpler than a complicated network but in which you will have no trouble seeing those connections and their long and indirect chains which scientists refer to as second, third, and nth order effects.
Thus, you will be able to see how the killing of a single African American teenager in Ferguson MO can set of a wave of protests nationally and raise the question of relationships between the police and young men of color in a new light. Similar, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa can trigger a range of concerns that extend beyond public health to almost all aspects of what could be called human security.
Systems theory as refflected in the first chart became popular in the social sciences in the 19600s but soon fell out of favor. Few analysts have used either omplexity or etworks ddespite the fact that they are key to dealing with wicked problems.