Tackling ‘Wicked’ Problems Holistically With Institutionalist Policymaking

  • Matthew Gray
  • Roderic A. Gill


One of our most pressing needs in creating a more sustainable world is the explicit development of holistic policy. This is becoming increasingly apparent as we are faced with more and more “wicked problems,” the most difficult class of problems that we can conceptualize. Such problems consist of “clusters” of problems and include socio-political and moral-spiritual issues.

This paper articulates a methodology that can be applied to the analysis and design of underlying organizational structures and processes that will consistently and effectively address wicked problems while being consistent with the advocated “learning by doing” approach to change management and policy making.

This transdisciplinary methodology – known as the institutionalist policymaking framework – has been developed from the perspective of institutional economics synthesized with perspectives from ecological economics and system dynamics. In particular it draws on the work first presented in Hayden’s 1993 paper “Institutionalist Policymaking” – and further developed in his 2006 book, at the heart of which lies the SFM – and the applicability of this approach in tackling complex and wicked problems.


Institutional Economic System Dynamics Model Ecological Economic Wicked Problem Epistemological Position 


  1. Ackoff R (1974) Redesigning the future: a systems approach to societal problems. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Bar-Yam Y (2000) Dynamics of complex systems. http://www.necsi.org/publications/dcs/. Accessed 14 Feb 2009
  3. Binkley CS (1998) Forestry in a postmodern world or just what was John Muir doing running a sawmill in Yosemite Valley. Policy Sci 31:133–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brooks M (2005) Spies, lies and butterflies. New Sci 19 Nov:32–35Google Scholar
  5. Buckman G (2004) Globalization: tame it or scrap it. Zed Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark J (2001) The global wood market, prices and plantation investment: an examination drawing on the Australian experience. Environ Conserv 28(1):53–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Commission on Global Governance (1995) Our global neighbourhood. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Costanza R, Daly HE, Bartholemew JA (1991) Goals, agenda, and policy recommendations for ecological economics. In: Costanza R (ed) Ecological economics: the sciences and management of sustainability. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Costanza R, Cumberland JC, Daly HE, Goodland R, Norgaard RB (1997) An introduction to ecological economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca RatonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crotty M (1998) The foundations of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process. Allen and Unwin, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  11. Daly HE (1993) The perils of free trade. Sci Am 269:24–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daly HE (1998) Sustainable growth: an impossibility theorem. In: Dryzek JS, Scholsberg D (eds) Debating the earth: the environmental politics reader. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Dryzek JS (1997) The politics of the earth: environmental discourses. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  14. Forrester JW (1961) Industrial dynamics. Productivity Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Gell-Man M (1994) The Quark and the Jaguar. Little, Brown and Company, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Gill RA (1993) The honeybee pollination market as a self-organising emergent system. PhD Thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  17. Gill RA (1996) An integrated social fabric matrix/system dynamics approach to policy analysis. Syst Dyn Rev 12:167–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gleick J (1987) Chaos: making a new science. Cardinal, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Grant WE, Pedersen EK, Marin SL (1997) Ecology and natural resource management: systems analysis and simulation. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Gray M (2006) Sustaining the Ecological, Social and Economic Values of the Forests of Southern Tasmania. Phd thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  21. Hamilton C (1994) The mystic economist. Willow Park Press, Fyshwick, ACTGoogle Scholar
  22. Hayden FG (1982) Social fabric matrix: from perspective to analytical tool. J Econ Issues 16:637–662Google Scholar
  23. Hayden FG (1993) Institutionalist policymaking. In: Tool MR (ed) Institutional economics: theory, method, policy. Kluwer, Boston/Dordrecht/LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Hayden FG (1995) Instrumentalist policymaking: policy criteria in a transactional context. J Econ Issues 29:360–384Google Scholar
  25. Hayden FG (2003) Endangered democratic institutions and instrumental inquiry: remarks upon receiving the Veblen-Commons award. J Econ Issues 37:243–258Google Scholar
  26. Hayden FG (2006a) Policymaking for a good society: the social fabric matrix approach to policy analysis and program evaluation. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Hayden FG (2006b) The inadequacy of Forrester system dynamics computer programs for institutional principles of hierarchy, feedback and openness. J Econ Issues 40:527–535Google Scholar
  28. Holling CS (2004) From complex regions to complex worlds. Ecol Soc 9:11. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art11. Accessed 14 Feb 2009Google Scholar
  29. Honderich T (ed) (1995) The Oxford companion to philosophy. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. King JB (1993) Learning to solve the right problems: the case of nuclear power in America. J Bus Ethics 12:105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kremen C, Niles JO, Dalton MG, Daily GC, Ehrlich PR, Fay JP, Grewal D, Guillery RP (2000) Economic incentives for rainforest conservation across scales. Science 288:1828–1832CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Low N (2003) Is urban transport sustainable? In: Low N, Gleeson B (eds) Making urban transport sustainable. Palgrave Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Meppem A (1999) Strategic policy development for public sector organisations: a communicative framework for sustainable regional development planning. PhD Thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  34. Meppem A (2000) The discursive community: evolving institutional structures for planning sustainability. Ecol Econ 34:47–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meppem A, Bourke S (1999) Different ways of knowing: a communicative turn toward sustainability. Ecol Econ 30:389–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Meppem A, Gill RA (1998) Planning for sustainability as a learning concept. Ecol Econ 26:121–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Munda G (2003) Internet encyclopaedia of ecological economics: multicriteria assessment. http://www.ecoeco.org/pdf/mlticritassess.pdf. Accessed 14 Feb 2009
  38. Radzicki MJ (2003a) Institutional economics, post Keynesian economics, and system dynamics: three legs of a heterodox economics stool. Future of heterodox economics conference. University of Missouri, Kansas City 5–7 June 2003Google Scholar
  39. Radzicki MJ (2003b) Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Forrester, and a foundation for evolutionary economics. J Econ Issues 37:133–173Google Scholar
  40. Rittel HWJ, Webber MM (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sci 4:155–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Shi T (2004) Ecological economics as a policy science: rhetoric or commitment towards an improved decision-making process on sustainability. Ecol Econ 48:23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Shindler B, Cramer LA (1999) Shifting public values for forest management: making sense of wicked problems. http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/wickedpr.html. Accessed 14 Feb 2009
  43. Simon S (2003) Internet encyclopedia of ecological economics: sustainability indicators. http://www.ecoeco.org/pdf/sustindicator.pdf. Accessed 14 Feb 2009
  44. Smith J-AM (2003) Redesign of government sustainability education programs for business personnel – from awareness raising to changing behaviour. PhD Thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  45. Stacey RD, Griffin D, Shaw P (2000) Complexity and management: fad or radical challenge to systems thinking?. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  46. Sterman JD (2000) Business dynamics: systems thinking and modelling for a complex world. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  47. Sterman JD (2002) All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist. Syst Dyn Rev 18:501–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stones R (1996) Sociological reasoning: towards a past modern sociology. MacMillan, Houndmills, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  49. van der Lee JJ (2002) A decision-support framework for participative and integrated river basin management: an application of the triple bottom line. PhD Thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  50. Wolfenden JAJ (1999) A transdisciplinary approach to integrated resource management: a pragmatic application of ecological economics. PhD Thesis, University of New England, AustraliaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Gray
    • 1
  • Roderic A. Gill
  1. 1.Queensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations