Monthly Archives: August 2019

The Origin of Wicked Problems

I learned about Rittel and Webber in my policy course in graduate school. The identified 10 characteristics of wicked problems in their article Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, published in 1973. You are fortunate as it is available for free online. If you don’t wish to dive into the article, here is the 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.

And, you’ll be relieved to know that Wikipedia has the Cliff notes (or Spark notes, depending on your age).

I share this research with the classes I teach, including a project management class, where they are generally doing planning in the social sciences, and with my Master’s in Ed students who will become school divisions leaders, often tasked with doing planning. The concept continues to be timely.

In fact, I just started reading a book that uses the concept as a theme. The author attributes is understanding of the concept to a professor but makes no reference to Rittel and Webber. I wonder if it is because the research is so old? At some point, does a concept become commonly understood, an accepted part of the vernacular, so that it is no longer required to cite its creator? I think we need to at least give a nod to the origins for those who might want to learn more and explore the thinking behind the concept.

Live Local

I live in the country, just on the edge of small incorporated town between Richmond and Virginia Beach. We love living here but have had to learn to do without suburban luxuries like dry cleaners, public transportation and a decent grocery store. What we do have is local health care.

There is a medical center in our town, just a few minutes from my house, and the nurse practitioner can do almost anything the doctor might do. I went in to see what we might do about my bad hip and immediately got the referral I needed. They even skipped x-rays to save some money as they knew the orthopedist was going to want his own.

I, of course, ended up in the big city for the orthopedist but it turns out the physical therapist is just in the next little town over from me. What a lovely surprise!

At my first session this week, I  joined a group of local folks in the workout room who were obviously enjoying the fellowship along with the exercise. They welcomed me right into the group. I recognized one lady from the library, and we chatted while we did our stretches and steps. When I woke up the next day, I realized it as all part of their evil plan: chat, laugh and forget that you are moving muscles that haven’t been moved for awhile!

Having supportive , local community as part of my care seems important. Yet, this same county closed their three local elementary schools some years ago in favor of a centralized campus. I understand the practical reasons, and the students did gain in the deal. As with many rural areas, enrollments are dropping so there is less funding even as the aging buildings need major repairs and updates for technology. One elementary school on a central campus with the rest of the schools helps reduce busing costs.  And, the students are able to learn in a new building with updated architecture, functioning technology and strong infrastructure. It is modern and welcoming.

What do you lose? Community. That small town feeling. Parents could chat with teachers as they picked up kids to walk them home or stop by to help with a classroom activity because it was in the neighborhood or regularly attend parent/teacher conferences. Because we are a low-income area, many town citizens do not have ready access to a car so getting to the events at the elementary school is not so easy now.

Think global, act local is one mantra. I would like to change it to LIVE local. Yes, Walmart has better prices, but it is nice to have a local pharmacy like the one where I bought a birthday card and a candy bar after PT today. Yes, I can get books from anywhere any time, but I don’t get to catch up on the town news like I do when I go to the library. And, yes, a central campus consolidates services but just what do we lose?


Two More to Go

A Woman Reading, after Pieter Janssens Elinga,1846–47 François Bonvin French
A Woman Reading, after Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1846–47
François Bonvin French (The Met Collection, CC0)

My goal each year is to read at least 75 books. I track my progress in a group at LibraryThing. This year, I am on track to finish the goal by the end of August. I’m at 73 and am reading the two books that will put me at the goal: The Incredible Crime by Lois Austin-Leigh and Puddin’ by Julie Murphy. You can see my whole list here.

The first book, written by a great-great-niece of Jane Austen, is a British crime mystery written in the 1930s during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Besides the mystery, these books are a glimpse into life between the two World Wars as Britain moved away from its class system. One of the wealthier characters who lives on an estate in the country is described as “fedual.” There is smuggling and possible wrong doing at Cambridge and I am hooked.

Puddin’ couldn’t be more different. It is a sequel to Dumplin’, which I read earlier this year and loved. The focus has moved to two of the other characters from the first novel although the whole group is still connected. Body image continues to be an important theme.

Clearly, I enjoy reading a wide variety of books. It is a reminder that our kids are the same. Maybe reluctant readers just haven’t found their niche. It is imperative that we give them as wide a choice as possible if our goal is to help them learn to love reading as a personal, powerful activities. I read everything I was assigned in school, but I always had my own book tucked in my bag ready for a free moment. Maybe some kids need to start with the book in the bag rather than the titles on the syllabus.

Protecting Sacred Lands

Peter Matthiessen‘s book Indian Country has been on my shelf for awhile. I have read his fiction and nonfiction, including In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, his account of the American Indian Movement take over of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre in the late 1800s, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

This book, published in 1984, chronicles contemporary systematic take over of Indian lands across the United States as private companies looked to profitable mining and recreation uses. Matthiessen describes his travels to these often remote locations where Native Americans have maintained their traditional lives and language (many did not speak English) declining the creep of so-called civilization that seemed only to destroy. They inhabit the land in ways that owners do not, connected to an inner geography of sacred spaces passed down from the beginning of time.

Matthiessen is not acting as an impartial journalist. He clearly supports what are described as “traditionals,” groups who are often at odds with the elected tribal councils set up under the auspices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Traditionals believe these official councils are really just the puppets of  government and private companies, giving them the go ahead to open Indian lands under their control for their own financial gain, with little thought to the impact on the lives of those who will be displaced. He was attacked in this editorial in The Washington Post for refusing to recognize the legitimate voices of the councils.

I started some follow up research on the various stories and discovered an excellent resource related to the encroachment on sacred lands from The Sacred Land Film Project: Their map of threatened lands is a good starting point for exploration.

In the noisiness of our world, these stories can get buried, maybe a blurb on the news after reviewing the recent tweets and insults. Right now, protesters are trying to save a sacred mountain in Hawaii.

A Slice of Farm Life

Tom Turkey

A little slice of farm life: we have two royal palm male turkeys that are at least five years old. They are semi-feral, venturing far afield and foraging for themselves but always returning to their roost on our back yard fence each night. They are brothers and they act like it: some days, they spend the whole day fighting. Other days, they just hang out: resting, eating, gobbling at sirens together.

One recent morning, however, we only found one turkey wandering around and a whole lot of turkey feathers strewn across the driveway. Something, it seemed, had taken our turkey. His buddy gobbled for him all that day but we never heard an answer. Night came and the lone boy roosted in the usual spot. I felt sorry for him: they do like companionship so I contacted a local friend to see if someone might be interested in adopting. He would be happy just hanging out with a  flock of chickens.

The afternoon of the next day my husband got a call from our neighbor Charlie. Think country neighbor here: they live across the cotton field from us, probably a quarter of a mile or more by road. Right now, we can’t see their house at all because the cotton is so high.

Low and behold, our turkey was hanging out in his back yard. My husband took a drive over but wasn’t able to catch him. “He didn’t want to be caught,” he reported. He did confirm that the bird seemed fine, missing some feathers, but walking and gobbling and eating. Charlie said he thought he had heard the brother calling, but it would have been a long way for this guy to get back through the cotton. I think they both had just given up and were resigned to their lives as lone birds.

We went back at dusk to see where he was roosting. He had chosen a trailer in the back yard but jumped down the minute we approached and wandered towards the woods. We really didn’t want him to roost in a tree so we backed off, returning after dark. He was back on the trailer, and we were able to grab him and get him into the back of the pickup truck. Once home, it took some coaxing to get him out of the truck but once out, he quickly found his way to the roost. They have been back to their usual behavior for the past two days.

We have a bit of a mystery as to what might have attacked him and scared him enough to run that far. (They really don’t fly for any distance but maybe in a panic, he was able to lift himself in the air.) Sussex County does have coyotes, but we have seen no evidence like scat.  Our security cameras did not seem to pick up any unusual activity. It is a reminder about how close we live to the natural world here on the farm, with patches of actual wilderness, or at least what passes for it here in the suburban southeast Virginia corridor.