This paper has three sections. In the first section we examine the conceptual literature on ‘wicked problems’, noting the main dimensions of such problems, and indicating why these issues have been attracting more attention in recent times.
In the second section, we note that there has been very little attention to the implications for policy and public management of how ‘wicked problems’ are identified, understood and managed. We therefore elucidate some of the challenges for traditional approaches in some of the key functional areas of public management, including strategy-making, organisational design, people management, and performance measurement.
In the third section, we draw on public management theory and practice to examine some possible approaches to building a capacity to address complexity and to increase effectiveness in dealing with ‘wicked problems’. We group these approaches under three broad directions: systems thinking; collaboration, including joined-up government; and mobilising adaptive work. We also consider their implications for management structures and systems.