ep.07 Wicked problems


The DP Geography guide mentions wicked problems

The aims of the geography course at SL and HL are to enable students to:

develop a critical awareness and consider complexity thinking in the context of the nexus of geographic issues, including:

acquiring an in-depth understanding of how geographic issues, or wicked problems, have been shaped by powerful human and physical processes

Geography aims - DP Geography guide

What is a wicked problem?

Video sources

[3 December 2014]
[12 August 2013]

Adapted from Tackling Wicked Problems from Plymouth State University

A wicked problem is a problem that is challenging or impossible to solve either because not enough is understood about the problem, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of varying opinions, the economic burden, or the impact of these problems with other problems.

They tend to have 10 characteristics:

  1. Wicked problems are hard to define and neatly categorize.
  2. Because wicked problems are hard to define and melt into each other, they are also hard to declare “solved.”
  3. There are no “solutions” to wicked problems, only “good” or “bad” measures.
  4. There are no standard approaches to wicked problems.
  5. Explanations for wicked problems vary because no single observer can claim to have fully analyzed and understood the full scope of the problem.
  6. Wicked problems are the results of other wicked problems.
  7. There is no definitive scientific test for the solution of a wicked problem because they are human caused and not natural phenomena.
  8. Attempts at solutions are often small-scale because too much new understanding during the process often reveals new information that changes the approach.
  9. Every wicked problem is unique so attempts to solve one wicked problem are difficult to adapt to other wicked problems.
  10. Designers attempting to address a wicked problem must be fully responsible for their actions.

What are the wicked problems in the IB DP Geography course?

Use a copy of the DP Geography guide, from the IB, to help to list as many wicked problems as you can that are 'covered' by the DP Geography course.

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Looking at wicked problems through the 5Ps

Take one of the wicked problems that is 'covered' by the DP Geography guide and analysis it through the 5Ps.



  • Which geographical locations have been impacted by the wicked problem?


  • How did the problem get so 'wicked'?


  • Has the wicked problem changed the distribution of power?


  • How could the wicked power have evolved in 5/10/20 years?


  • Do different groups of stakeholders hold different opinions about the wicked problem?

Use the Financial Times to exemplify the complexity of one of the wicked problems

Use the Financial Times [free access available for teachers and students] to find three articles that show how complex the issues are surround one wicked problem.