What to do - ‘After the Riots’ - October 2011

A very complex issue - it’s another of those ‘wicked problems’

Since the spate of riots that recently broke out in our towns and cities around the UK, there has been much talk about likely causes of this undesirable phenomenon. Some of the suggested causes include:

  • Disaffected / alienated youth
  • Worklessness and illiteracy
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unemployment and spending cuts
  • Breakdown of ‘family life’
  • Loss of sense of personal responsibility
  • Over-emphasis on personal rights and entitlement
  • Twisting and misrepresenting of human rights
  • A failure of the penal system - in particular in terms of reducing re-offending
  • Criminal opportunism which did not fear any possibility of getting caught or any meaningful judicial  penalty

Experience shows that many different causes have contributed to the kind of behaviour that we saw in the recent riots. It stands to reason, therefore, that many different tactics need to be applied to start addressing this sorry state of affairs.

These needed tactics are, however, not within the remit or capability of just one individual, or department, or public agency. What is needed is a genuine commitment, within and between agencies, to truly collaborate and deliver common outcomes.

We also need to recognise that this is not a simple problem but a very complex, inter-related one which is often labelled a ‘wicked problem’. These types of problems should be addressed in a more sophisticated way. Those involved should recognise that:

  • The problem is essentially unique (although there are some common themes across different areas) - so solutions must be local
  • Solutions need to tackle root causes as well as immediate causes
  • A number of partial solutions are required to reduce the scale and impact of a problem as ‘wicked problems’ cannot be totally eliminated
  • The nature of the problem becomes clearer once you start to tackle it
  • Every solution will change the problem in some way
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ - only ‘better’ or ‘worse’
  • Searching for the ‘correct solution’ is self-defeating, as it does not exist

Identifying key knowledge holders, influencers, and informal leaders quickly, connecting them up with the right people and then facilitating their ideas into multiple but coherent solutions will make a significant and visible impact on this wicked problem and the desired outcomes.

“Easy to say, but not easy to achieve”, we hear you say. But maybe it’s not that hard if you know how to do it.

Key Performance, via associate company INL, has years of experience in helping clients tackle ‘wicked problems’. Using a unique collaborative methodology, we tap into the collective knowledge of informal networks of people and stimulate knowledge sharing within and between the organisations with which you need to work. We create safe environments in which your people and others create novel and innovative solutions. Unlike those who might claim to know the answers to your problems, we help by unleashing the talent and knowledge that exists within relevant local organisations. By helping your people to confront and deal with the complexity of the problems, more robust and effective solutions can be developed.

Our methodology achieves positive results quickly and cost-effectively, leaving your organisation and its people more capable of dealing with future ‘wicked problems’.