Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

2019 Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Wicked Problems and Sustainable Development

  • Lorelei L. HansonEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11352-0_522



Wicked problems are intractable social issues that defy traditional problem-solving approaches because they are characterized by high levels of complexity and ambiguity and involve multiple stakeholder groups with strongly divergent values and perspectives. While initially applied in a social planning context, sustainability researchers have increasingly utilized this lens to explain the multidimensions of many sustainable development issues and explore new ways for addressing these complex issues.


In this entry, the origin of wicked problems as a concept and its ten distinguishing properties is discussed. These characteristics are then used to discuss vexing dimensions of sustainable development that are highlighted in the research literature. There is increased attention by sustainability researchers to how traditional decision-making approaches, management strategies, public policy responses, and education are...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social SciencesAthabasca UniversityAthabascaCanada

Section editors and affiliations

  • Walter Leal Filho
    • 1
  1. 1.World Sustainable Developoment Research and Transfer CentreHamburg University of Applied SciencesHamburgGermany