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Thursday, July 13 • 17:00 - 17:30
3019 A Systemic Integration Approach to Designing Interagency Responses to Wicked Problems

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Wicked problems are open-ended, highly interdependent issues that cross agency, stakeholder, jurisdictional, political and geopolitical boundaries. This confounds governments because policies and budgets tend to be aligned within these boundaries and not across them, making it difficult to bring the appropriate talent, knowledge and assets into an interagency approach to tackling whatever wicked problem is at hand. This paper describes the development and implementation of a Systemic Intervention approach to designing government interagency meta-organizations to address specific wicked problems.

Many governments realize the need for a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to tackling large complex issues, and have employed various methods to achieve interagency and other private/public partnerships. One approach is to employ experts (sometimes called Czars) who are in charge of specific policies and can coordinate input from across government and private entities. Other organizational approaches have focused on forming high-level committees and task forces made up of representation from stakeholder organizations. These approaches are intended to increase cross-government information sharing, identify best-practices, and generate reports that include recommendations to policy makers. However, the formation of these vehicles can be ad hoc and not designed holistically to handle the complexity of wicked problems where interdependencies abound and the perspectives and values of agencies and other stakeholders can often be in conflict. Other complaints about forming these ad hoc groups include the slow, long-term process required to build trust; one agency typically takes the lead, creating problematic power relationships when their own inevitably partial perspective starts to override the perspectives of other agencies; difficulties of reaching agreement on crosscutting agendas; too many meetings; inaction in the face of the above difficulties; and missed opportunities.

The research described in this paper was conducted to develop and evaluate a new Systemic Intervention approach to designing interagency organizations. It is a multi-method approach that combines the viable system model (VSM) as the organizational design instrument with participatory problem structuring methods and boundary critique. The idea is to create interagency meta-organizations that are specifically aligned to the particular wicked problem they are charged with addressing. The VSM offers a valuable method for creating such interagency meta-organizations because it allows agencies to remain autonomous, while also being part of a larger complex systemic organization. It also offers ways to build adaptive mechanisms for dealing with the rapidly changing dynamics of wicked problems, and establishes protocols for interagency coordination and information sharing. In contrast, problem structuring methods facilitate the engagement of multiple agency stakeholders to structure and formulate an expanded and shared understanding of the wicked problem (which is then seen as the “environment” within the VSM), and boundary critique helps the participants to understand and address power relations when boundary decisions are being made.

This Systemic Intervention approach was evaluated through an action research project called Crime on the Urban Edge (CUE). CUE has been focused on designing an interagency as a complex adaptive system for countering illicit drug trafficking by transnational organized crime, U.S. urban gangs, and their potential for systemic interaction. This is a wicked problem that crosses local/national/international agency divides. Although the action research was conducted in the specific context of CUE, the idea was to generate transferable knowledge about how the same or similar methods could be used for designing interagency meta-organizations more generally to better address wicked problems (e.g. urban sustainability, climate change adaption, terrorism, the energy/food/water nexus, migration issues, etc.). Preliminary results and lessons learned from the analysis of this action research will be discussed.

Thursday July 13, 2017 17:00 - 17:30 CEST
4th Floor, Room SR 384, Institut für Computertechnik,TU Wien Gußhausstraße 27-29, 1040 Wien, Austria