We’re failing to solve the world’s ‘wicked problems.’ Here’s a better approach

By Stephan Manning and Juliane Reinecke.

We live in a world burdened by large-scale problems that refuse to go away: the refugee crisis; terrorism; rising sea levels; frequent floods, droughts and wildfires; not to mention persistent inequality and violation of basic human rights across the world.

What do these problems have in common? They resist any simple solution. In policy research they are called “wicked. This is because cause-effect relations are complex and solutions unclear; many of these problems are urgent, yet there is no central authority to solve them; their magnitude is often hard to estimate; and those trying to solve them may even contribute to causing them.

The EU refugee crisis, the topic of a recent U.N. summit, is a good example: Driven by regional conflicts and poverty, and assisted by trafficking networks, people from Africa and the Middle East continue to take enormous risks to enter EU territory by land or sea. For several years now, thousands of refugees have died on this journey each year and no solution is in sight. EU member countries continue to blame their neighbors for either taking in too many refugees or for refusing to help, while there is little shared interest and limited capacity for actually addressing the sources of the problem.

What’s the best way to effectively address these types of wicked problems?

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Gathering String – Academic Conferences and Serendipity

By Keshav Krishnamurty.

Conferences are funny things. I was at the Eastern Sociological Society conference at the Boston Park Plaza this year, which proved to be fairly informal, friendly, and with a substantial number of undergrads presenting interesting new work. I have been to multiple management conferences before and although I am not quite a “conference junkie”, I can already see how each conference has its own “flavor”. Even relatively boring conferences sometimes tend to have rather interesting people turn up, and getting to meet them is an experience worth remembering.

Being the organizations nerd that I am, I’m also familiar with what the literature says about the benefits of conferences. More papers and articles than I can possibly list talk about how the networking opportunities provided by a conference help students – as the answers to this question at ResearchGate demonstrate – whether it’s in terms of finding future job opportunities, in terms of knowing future colleagues and superiors to recommend you and your work, or how meeting colleagues from different universities and therefore being exposed to new knowledge, new perspectives and new collaborations, leads to greater creativity. There is advice on how to network more easily at conferences, tips on conference productivity and for those who don’t like conferences much, there is even advice on how to make conference networking feel less ‘icky’. Overall, I do know, more or less, what to expect from a conference when I go into one. However, the Eastern Sociological Society conference resulted in something that I had not expected….  Continue reading

Police, Privatization and Public Data on the Use of Force: A Response to Ferguson

By Pacey Foster.

Recent events in Ferguson, MO, have generated a national discussion about the growing militarization of the police and their accountability to the public for potential abuses of power. While Massachusetts does not have the worst national reputation in this regard, we do have deep and historical reasons to be concerned. Recent claims that some Massachusetts law enforcement agencies are in fact private corporations, and thus exempt from public reporting requirements, should only add to growing public concern.

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Do We Need More (Ice Bucket) Challenges to Change the World?

By Stephan Manning.

If somebody had told me earlier this year that the best way to raise money for research on a rare disease is to have people pour buckets of ice water over their heads I would have probably suggested ordering another martini – on the rocks! Today it seems that hardly anybody has not been nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge or at least heard about it. In a nutshell, the idea is to challenge people to either donate $100 for research on ALS* or dump a bucket of ice water on their head within 24 hours, which would qualify them to nominate other people. Critics have called the campaign a substitute for charitable work; a distraction from other campaigns; and a waste of water. But nobody can deny that this campaign has generated over 1 Million Facebook videos since June 1 and more than 2.2 Million tweets since July 29, all of which have helped mobilize $41.8 Million from 739,000 donors for ALS research within the past month. So what’s the secret behind this campaign and do we need more (ice bucket) challenges to solve the world’s many problems?

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Blogging Highlights: Melting Ice and Arctic Activism

This week, we would like to recommend a series of related debates on climate change, melting ice, opportunistic responses by oil companies, and Greenpeace activism.

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Harmony in Poverty? Or Can the Landfill Harmonic Project Really Transform Communities?

By Stephan Manning.

The new documentary “Landfill Harmonic” tells the story about a group of children from Cateura, a Paraguayan slum, who play instruments made entirely of garbage from a nearby landfill. A related Kickstarter campaign raised $214k in May this year to support not only the film project, but outreach programs and a world tour of “The Recycled Orchestra”. Is the Kickstarter campaign right in saying that “[such] creative and simple solutions can bring powerful social transformation to the poorest communities”? The campaign and a related video posted on Kickstarter, upworthy.com and other websites sparked a recent controversy about the real impact of such initiatives.

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Disney’s Magic: The Business of Organizing and Managing Culture

By David Levy.

As Stephan Manning commented in a recent blog post, many of us who attended the recent Academy of Management conference in Orlando, Florida, felt some of the discomfort of the fakeness of the place, the endless “have a magical day” greetings from overly perky staff (“castmembers”, in Disney’s Orwellian newspeak), the over-engineered physical environment of artificial beauty with an enormous carbon footprint (the steady stream of planes arriving, the acres of over-air conditioned buildings – but you save the earth if you hang up your towels!) Parallels with the TV series The Prisoner or the classic movie The Stepford Wives jump to mind (indeed in the book, the leader of the men’s club is a former Disney engineer).

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