Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning
by Horst W., J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber
Policy Sciences Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jun., 1973), pp. 155-169
Abstract: The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.
George Bernard Shaw diagnosed the case several years ago; in more recent times popular protest may have already become a social movement. Shaw averred that “every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.” The contemporary publics are responding as though they have made the same discovery.
Few of the modern professionals seem to be immune from the popular attack–whether they be social workers, educators, housers, public health officials, policemen, city planners, highway engineers or physicians. Our restive clients have been telling us that they don’t like the educational programs that schoolmen have been offering, the redevelopment projects urban renewal agencies have been proposing, the lawenforcement styles of the police, the administrative behavior of the welfare agencies, the locations of the highways, and so on. In the courts, the streets, and the political campaigns, we’ve been hearing ever-louder public protests against the professions’ diagnoses of the clients’ problems, against professionally designed governmental programs, against professionally certified standards for the public services.
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