Solving wicked problems requires more knowledge and knowhow than any one person has. 

A wicked problem is a societal problem that is impossible to entirely or permanently solve. Wicked problems are impossible because of incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and interests involved, the unpredictability of complex systems, and the interconnectedness of one wicked problem with other problems.

I think you’ll agree that eliminating, even reducing, natural hazard impacts and disaster risk is a wicked problem. In reality, it’s many different interdependent wicked problems that can never be solved but always need solving.

Solving the wicked problems we work on professionally requires convergence and inclusivity. These wicked problems can’t be solved by any single researcher, practitioner, organization, or discipline. The needed insights and skills for natural hazard impact and disaster risk reduction exist across all of us–our colleagues, at-risk residents, community-based organizations, and politicians. 

In other words, we need to do inclusive problem-solving together to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk most effectively. 

Inclusive problem-solving encourages more and different participants to deliberate about natural hazards and disasters constructively and safely. Inclusion aims to reduce reliance on the same close colleagues, the same ways of working, the same pool of knowledge, and the same resources. It should provide meaningful, community-building opportunities for those historically excluded. 

Inclusion for solving natural hazard and disaster problems might mean researchers substantively involving practitioners; it might mean vice versa. It might mean natural scientists involving social scientists, or forecasters involving emergency managers. It might mean predominately-white teams or collaborations working to understand how the exclusion–for whatever reason–of Black and brown disaster professionals reduces their potential to solve natural hazard and disaster problems, and what to do about it.

Inclusively solving natural hazards and disaster problems makes more credible the resulting products, protocols, policies, and plans for reducing impacts and risk. It also provides more confidence for activating research findings while inspiring more and more needs-driven research.

Inclusive problem-solving requires participants to map what they know about the problem systematically–however they know it. This forms a shared, convergent understanding of the situation before jumping the gun to working on a presupposed solution. With a shared understanding of the problem, it’s possible to formulate creative ways of framing the problem to see untapped opportunities for solutions. Inclusive problems-solving participants create concepts for solutions in an integrative, rapid, and iterative way that tests their assumptions, feasibility, and desired benefits.

With the complexity of inclusive problem-solving and the challenges of any sizeable participatory process, outside facilitation and coaching always increase the likelihood that a problem-solving initiative is inclusive, diverse, equitable, and productive. 

Impact360 staff has decades of participatory process design, facilitation, and coaching experience to support your next inclusive problem-solving initiative.

The success of inclusive problem-solving is also improved with purposefully-designed participatory process tools to better, for example, facilitate diverse, convergent groups. Facilitators–you or a paid professional–use participatory process tools to energize, manage, and focus problem-solving participants. Some of us are familiar with these types of tools. Many of us aren’t. 

But all of us can benefit from knowing about and using more participatory process tools to supercharge our problem-solving and convergence work to reduce natural hazard impacts and disaster risk. 

No matter how successful the tools we already use are new (or newly adapted), participatory process tools are needed. They are necessary to promote more effective inclusive problem-solving among the researchers, practitioners, and the at-risk communities we work with.

Participatory process tools are something that Impact360 staff spend a lot of time thinking about, looking for, and trying out. That’s so you don’t have to. (Unless you want to, of course, and then we would love to involve you.) We’ve synthesized this work into our inclusive problem-solving toolkit we call Toolkit360.  You can read more about Toolkit360 on our website. 

To learn about using Toolkit360 through our trainings or get facilitation support to do inclusive problem-solving for your work get in touch. We’re always excited to hear about what problems members (and soon-to-be members) are working on.

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