The basic formula

The basic formula

Four conversation spaces

The Wicked Problems Plaza consists of four spaces through which participants move during a session. These four spaces represent the distinct frames and dimensions needed to effectively understand and address wicked problems:

1.            An interest or hands space; which aims at ‘getting your hands’ on the problem

2.            An equity or heart space; which is intended to define and identify the vision and ideals relating to the problem

3.            An efficiency or head space; which is dedicated to rational considerations around efficient and best practice approaches

4.            A partnering space; which is dedicated to syntheses and paradoxical thinking. The partnering space is aimed at stimulating participants to think out-of-the-box in support of collaborative approaches to the wicked problem.

 These spaces provide the physical conditions to bring head, heart and hands together in the same room. Going through these spaces is instrumental in finding novel but viable approaches to wicked problems. A WPP should confront these various dimensions in a constructive and structured manner to channel groups of stakeholders (get the system into the room) in search for novel directions. The sequence of spaces may change according to the nature of the basic proposition: the meeting can start from the viewpoint of a solution, a problem, an ideal or an approach. In each space, a particular type of thinking or a complementary dimension of an approach is stimulated. 

The interest space

In the interest space, the participants are invited to get their hands on the problem. During this phase, participants list the most important dimensions of the wicked problem. They do so by bringing along an object that symbolises the wicked problem for them. In this way, they tell their personal story related to the wicked problem. After this round, the group identifies the stakeholders involved and their interests in the problem and/or solution. They thereby also discover who is in the Plaza, and who is missing (stakeholder mapping). They start to consider what stakeholders are involved in the creation of this problem and what stakeholders are needed to effectively address it. In relation to these basic dimensions, participants should consider the wickedness of the issue, whether the issue is linked to other issues and what the consequences are of not addressing the problem. This exercise should help participants to reach a common problem definition and an understanding that the problem cannot be solved by individual participants.

The equity space

In the equity space, the participants explore their own intentions, ideals and passions in relation to the problem that they would like to address, without direct reference to the practicalities involved in the issue. Here, participants can for instance be invited to relax on pillows, take a moment of silence and really listen to what others have to say. The facilitator or participants amongst themselves ask questions about why participants have these ideals and mind-set in relation to the wicked problem at hand. Some examples:

- What would the world look like if the wicked problem no longer existed?

- What would your ideal role be in the creation of this vison?

- What dilemmas (direct and indirect consequences) do you face when you follow your ideals?

The efficiency space

In this space, the participants identify potential practical approaches to the wicked problem at hand. It hosts brainstorming about previous solutions, good examples and brilliant failures. Why have these failed? What can we learn from failure in order to create a better fit between the proposed solution and the problem? How can new approaches become feasible and sustainable in the long run? Talking about business cases in this space stimulates participants to think in terms of economically feasible solutions to a problem. Adding a value proposition and a business model to this can help the group to come up with a motto and a vision. This will lead to a coalition of the needed, with a vision that is dynamic and innovative and relates to the societal issue that the organisation wants to address.

The partnering space

The partnering space facilitates collective-vision-based negotiations. This requires brainstorming, synthesis and out-of-the-box thinking on possible approaches. Once brainstorming is undertaken, the stakeholders work together on ways of implementing solutions or on frames to further discuss the issue in future sessions and initiatives. The partnering space is intended to bring the complementary strengths of each participant together in creative and innovative directions, rather than searching for compromises, which has been the normal negotiation method. Partnering also implies that stakeholders remain independent of one another but share complementary competencies and keep on investing in themselves. This space consequently uses the input from all spaces. An important technique that can be used before entering this space is to ask the participants to walk through the WPP and consider all the notes, ideas and inventories harvested during the WPP session. This should provide them with additional inspiration to seek common approaches to the problem. A vital question that should be asked in this space relates to the participants who want to work on joint approaches: Are you a coalition not only of the willing, but also of the needed? In the event of a gap, the approach needs to be adjusted by, for example, including other stakeholders and organising a follow-up meeting.

 See for more information about tools and methods in each space the facilitation manual