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Wicked Problems

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Raphael Bostic

In recent years, many have argued that government is in a state of crisis. There are big problems that are widely known – a crumbling infrastructure, flailing education system, environments in crisis, loss of our competitive edge on the international stage, among others – and yet there is a prevailing view that our public sector institutions are incapable of finding solutions for them.

In part, this is because the problems are hard.  All of the easy problems have largely been solved. What’s left is a set of problems that are incredibly complex – “wicked problems” we call them in class – and whose solutions are hard to boil down to simple prescriptions.  So designing policies that will get the job done is a major challenge.

Part of the problem is implementation and governance.  Many of our institutions do not have sufficient capacity, either in terms of staff or equipment, to do the tasks that are asked of them or the tasks being asked of them are too complex.  Elegant policy design can lead to programs that have so many criteria and conditions that even sophisticated experts can struggle to explain or operate them.   Across the country, there is tremendous variation in the skill set of institutions that implement policy.  So from town to town or from state to state, the same policy will be enacted quite differently and with very different effectiveness.

This reality forms the backdrop that has shaped the Bedrosian Center’s creation and mission. Because the problems are hard, we need to make sure that our governance institutions – spanning the public, private, and non-profit sectors – are able to implement the policies we decide are the right ones to tackle our wicked problems.  Bedrosian will pursue a multi-pronged strategy for achieving this goal, and will try to engage everyone in a different conversation: one that emphasizes the “how” of policy in addition to the “what” of policy.

We believe this approach is an essential element of achieving more effective governance and implementing good policy. I’m looking forward to an interesting, impactful, and fun journey.

We hope you will come along with us!



Bedrosian Center