Rittel and Webber's 1973 formulation of wicked problems in social policy planning specified ten characteristics 1)

  • There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  • Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  • There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  • Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  • Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  • Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  • Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  • The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  • The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

Conklin later generalized the concept of problem wickedness to areas other than planning and policy; Conklin's defining characteristics are 2)

  • The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  • Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
  • Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
  • Every solution to a wicked problem is a 'one shot operation.'
  • Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

see https://www.wickedproblems.com/1_wicked_problems.php


1)
doi:10.1007/bf01405730
2)
Conklin, Jeffrey (2006). Dialogue mapping : building shared understanding of wicked problems. Chichester, England: Wiley Publishing. ISBN 0-470-01768-6.