Solving a "Wicked" Problem: Knowledge Management Systems Can Create New Educational Environments Where Resources Are Expended on Proactive Activities, Such as Closing the Achievement Gap

Article excerpt

Closing the achievement gap is not just a goal. It is a mandate that calls us to redirect our systems to accelerate student achievement and dissolve the increasing gaps among a diverse student population.

This will mean doing things differently, letting go of some past practices, opening our minds and classroom doors to collaboration, considering new ideas and refining our repertoire of solutions that work. Knowledge-management systems can serve as organizers for making the shared collection of knowledge and solutions accessible to the community.

Have we been on the right track with our strategies in attempting to solve the achievement gap? The solution requires a research-based and collaborative response on the part of educators at all levels. A solution process, supported by the efforts of professional networks and development teams, creates a new educational environment where resources are expended on proactive activities rather than on fixing a problem that should never have grown to the point of even being named.

Closing the achievement gap is a wicked problem. Because of its dynamic and evolving nature, the solution remains elusive during the problem-solving process. "Wicked" problems are ones for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. They cannot be solved in a traditional linear Fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented (Rittel and Webber, 1973). The research regarding this science of wicked problem-solving has application to our work of closing the achievement gap.

In order to confront wicked problems and avoid the "solution-of-the-month syndrome," new leadership is needed. Good leaders, at home with the ambiguities of a problem like closing the achievement gap, have the capacity to engage the educational community to flourish in a dynamic environment.

Leadership that manages knowledge

If knowledge is the capacity for effective action (Senge, 1990), and knowledge is temporary but learning is continuous, then we can identify the key attributes of leadership that manages knowledge as:

* Fostering continuous learning as part of professional work;

* Providing opportunities for educators to continually expand their repertoire;

* Communicating expectations for participation and contributions among educators;

* Establishing knowledge leadership groups to inform and refine the system by identifying priorities, needs and resources;

* Using technology to inform professional learning; and

* Facilitating the transformation of data and information into knowledge that can be applied to practice.

The knowledge leader who manages the integration of people, content and technology is a key element of a knowledge system. The knowledge leader confronts a wicked problem with the right people, who have the ability to lead and sustain a change commitment system-wide. As they begin the system-wide initiative, they move from working in independent silos into an arena of-collaboration.

This system-wide effort, in turn, supports more and more stakeholders in having equal access to what they need to do their work. All members of the professional community are invited and have access to the core knowledge that drives their work. They continually mine the research, resources and success models toward the goal of accelerating student and adult learning in schools. They construct new understandings as they convert knowledge rote action.


Content, the second key element era knowledge system, is the initial deliverable. Content includes the collection of archives (research, tools, success models and other resources) formally held by individuals in the system. The work of establishing a structure and process aligned with a shared goal is what makes knowledge utilization possible. …