The Challenge of Wicked Problems

  • Peter J. BalintEmail author
  • Ronald E. Stewart
  • Anand Desai
  • Lawrence C. Walters


For almost a century, advocates for preservation and for development have argued about the effects of human actions on the environment. These arguments have been made more difficult to resolve because there are still considerable uncertainties in science, and because it takes a long time for the effects of human actions to show up in the environment. Both sides, and other groups who fall along a continuum between them, have exploited these uncertainties in appeals and litigation. The logical result was for government agencies to produce more complex documents justifying their decisions and to include and advocate for more science, causing many to assume these disputes were based in science. But we believe the evidence shows that the underlying differences in stakeholder positions are not so much related to uncertainties in science or failure to consider particular aspects of the scientific literature, but rather to conflicting values and preferences, and therefore differing views on desirable outcomes. These elements of the argument are rarely, if ever, considered in the decision-making process. As a result, most environmental arguments continue to produce more detailed documents and longer processes without resolving the underlying issues.


Forest Reserve Precautionary Principle Public Land National Forest Wicked Problem 
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Copyright information

© Island Press 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Balint
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ronald E. Stewart
    • 2
  • Anand Desai
    • 3
  • Lawrence C. Walters
    • 4
  1. 1.George Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  3. 3.Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  4. 4.Brigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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