Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

2008 Mecs Summit: A Workshop on Complex Situations

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

2008 Mecs Summit: A Workshop on Complex Situations

Article excerpt

This paper examines a unique and modified form of the Process Enneagram© that was designed to tackle the issue of examining underlying principles of Wicked Problems in an effort to see them from different perspectives and, hopefully, to gain greater insight into practical methodologies that might guide our efforts to deal with them. This modified form of the Process Enneagram© was specifically designed and used at the invitation only 2 day Managing and Engineering Complex Situations workshop conducted in 2008 and hosted at the MITRE location in McLean, VA just outside Washington, DC.


The Managing and Engineering Complex Situations (MECS) forum was created to bring a diversity of practitioners from academia, industry, and government together to advance the way problems are solved. Focused on change and innovation, it explored new methods for understanding and coping with complexity.

In October 2007 the first MECS conference was held. It focused on the complexity of wicked problems and its influence on problems today. The term "wicked problems" was originally defined by Horst Rittel and is defined as problems "...for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem" (CogNexus Institute,

Because of the interconnected and ever evolving nature of the variables involved, wicked problems cannot be solved in traditional linear methods. Wicked problems always occur in the context of human systems, reflecting the diversity of perspectives, paradigms, and views of reality of the individuals involved (CogNexus Institute, http:// It is this social complexity of problems in today's hyper-connected world that overwhelms problem solving in organizational structures.

"The concept of "wicked problems" in design was originally proposed by H. J. Rittel and M. M. Webber (1984) in the context of social planning. They pointed out that in solving a wicked problem, the solution of one aspect may reveal another, more complex problem. Rittel and Webber suggested that the following rules define the form of a wicked problem:

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.

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

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

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.

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 may be incorporated into the plan.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.

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

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

10. The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong" (Computational Complexity and Problem Hierarchy, html).

In July 2008 the forum continued exploring this issue with an invitation only 2 day workshop hosted by MITRE at its McLean, VA complex. The General Council for the workshop included Dr. Andres Sousa-Poza, Samuel F. Kovacic, Dr. Adrian Gheorghe, Beverly Gay McCarter, Dr. Brian White, and Dr. Chuck Keating. The MECS Forum Committee included Beverly Gay McCarter, Dr. Lowell Christy, and Dr. Dennis Buede.

The 2008 workshop's theme was "Identifying the Paradigm Shift". Its purpose was to engage a theoretical discussion of complexity that would lead to guiding principles for handling complex situations. This workshop explored effecting a paradigm shift through conversation of how we understand complex problems by examining what we do not know. …

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