Wicked Solutions: A systems approach to complex problems

Posted by: Jane Davidson

There have been two major changes in evaluation in the past decade, and a new book just out this week combines the two in an amazingly rich and thoughtful, but practical and readable way.

It’s Bob Williams and Sjon van ’t Hof’s Wicked Solutions : A systems approach to complex problems.

Wicked Solutions

Bob Williams was the pioneer who led the initial introduction of systems concepts into evaluation, and has made the most significant theoretical contributions in this space. No, not just a spot of systems thinking, but a rich repertoire of theories and approaches that have come from an incredibly diverse range of disciplines.

Bob WilliamsTo say this has changed the conversation in evaluation would be a massive understatement. No more using the word ‘complex’ as a simile for ‘complicated’, folks! Bob has sharpened our thinking and helped us understand the nature of complexity, and much more. On a practical level, he has shown us why and how we need to infuse systems science into our work to adequately evaluate the complex aspects of programs and policies.

There’s been another major change in our work as well, something I have definitely experienced in my own practice.

The world is starting to see the advantages of having evaluative thinking and methodologies infused into the front end of program and policy design. I would say about half of my work is in this space now, and very little is actually in the back-end evaluation of something that is already up and running. Some of it is in that in-between space, where something is being developed as it’s rolled out – that’s where developmental evaluation comes into its own.

Combine these two major shifts, and you have Wicked Solutions : A systems approach to complex problems.

Surfing one more cutting edge in evaluation, Bob Williams and Sjon van ’t Hof have put this out initially as an ebook in PDF format (it will be out as a paperback later this year) and kept the price amazingly low, at US$12!

Here’s how Bob describes the book – and where to get a free sample:

‘Wicked Solutions : A systems approach to complex problems’ is essentially a step by step workbook for intervention design.

While it is not specifically an Evaluation book, it relates to evaluation in three ways.

It is all about evaluation with a small ‘e’; how to make evaluative judgments in a systemic manner.

Evaluation is of course an intervention, so there’s no reason why you can’t design evaluations using the process described in the book as evaluation move towards the broader acceptance of developmental evaluation informed approaches, evaluators inevitably become involved in intervention design. This book gives you a basis for evaluating that design process.

Not all design processes require the full works, so my co-author Sjon van ’t Hof and I designed the book to have three levels. Level One is a quick and dirty process to clarify a few things about intervening in a tricky situation, Level Two is a bit more involved for the mildly wicked problems and Level Three is a highly detailed design process for those wrestling with especially wicked situations.

Anyway you can gain access to a sample of the book here (just scroll down a bit) :
http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html

or if that doesn’t work try here :
http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/wicked.pdf

And if you like what you see, you can purchase the full ebook here for $US12 :
http://www.gum.co/wicked

4 comments to Wicked Solutions: A systems approach to complex problems

  • Bob Williams

    Just to let you know that to obtain the book you need to point yourself to gum.co/wicked or http://www.gumroad.com/l/wicked, not the above url.

  • Gabriel Della-Piana

    His earlier work helped me to see complexity more clearly and usefully.
    Gotta get this one which appears to move intervention development and evaluation
    in ways that education funding agencies might well take into account

  • Dave Storey

    I’m just half way through Wicked Solutions and came across this article as I was searching for a way to heap praise on Bob and Sjon van’t Hof. I’ve been studying and practicing systems thinking over the last 15 years and in my experience it doesn’t get much more practical than this! Thank you for this brilliant book.

  • This morning [Dec 12,2014] I continued writing my next book, Negotiating Sustainability, and thought of a good section title of ‘wicked solutions’ – to address the many facets of the wicked problem of ag landscape sustainability. So I googled it and found your site. Just ordered it and in a quick review it looks to be a great format to filet issues. thx.