“When you can’t solve the problem, manage it.
“, this is according to Robert Schuller an American Minister and Author. This quote aptly and simply summarizes what Balint and his co-authors are trying to convey in the article on wicked environmental problems. Why are we looking for the solution if it does not exist? Another enlightening words from Shimon Peres, the 9th President of the State of Israel, he said, “If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact – not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.” In the sense that we are dealing with the intricate nature of the problem and often times left us in the labyrinth of nowhere, all our actions and decisions are directed towards managing and coping with the situation. In instances that a particular component of environmental problems finds simple solutions not pertinent, the problem is delimited by scientific uncertainty, contending cultural values, and unresolved conflict of understanding or interest among key players, then Wicked Environmental Problems occur. The authors describe that when scientists disagree with the fundamental truth behind the nature of the problem, when citizens fail to share values on how resources are consumed and preserved fairly, and the decision-makers, policy-makers, planners and managers have varying judgment on the possible course of action subject to diversity of individual perception and understanding, then potential solutions does not exist. The uncertainties must be leveled off among the experts, stakeholders and decision-makers to arrive at the most acceptable, reasonable, if not entirely effective solution to wicked problems.The propositions offered by Rittle and Webber (1973, 162-67) cited in this article, described the distinguishing properties and outcomes of wicked problems.
The time and spatial dimensions not directly mentioned in the propositions but discussed as the landscape scale and time scale. The decision is more conflicting if the coverage will include local or universal issues and or short term or long term planning process. Local or universal concerns will affect stakeholders in varying degrees like directly or indirectly affected, those who benefited or deprived of privileges and rights and therefore their responses and participation may pose positive or negative support to the decisions. On the other hand, on the time scale, the socio-political environment can change readily and leadership priorities can shift in a short time frame whereas changes in the natural environment the ecological response may take a slow and continuous change that outlive the people involved in ecological studies in multigenerational projections.
Resolving uncertain issues may take longer time and the initial issues in the planning process may no longer be the current priority. Balint and colleagues presented four environmental cases that exhibit shared characteristics of the wicked environmental problems. In their efforts of crafting management models for the restoration of the Everglades in Florida, habitat conservation in Tanzania, emissions reductions under a European Union cap-and-trade system, and forest management in northeast California none has achieved sufficient and satisfying approaches or practices to address wicked problems. There is an insufficient analysis of risk and potential outcomes of the management decisions to have a general consensus among stakeholders and key players. Eliminating the unknown risk is a standoff in adaptive management approach as it relies on the science-based results rather than value-based understanding which is directly implicated in the ecosystem function.What now and how can the effort move on? Balint and the other authors outlined a process called “enhanced learning network process” as a likely track through the disorder of wicked problems. There are two essential aspects of this process. First, it is important to provide venues to engage all key stakeholders in a public discussion of mutual learning where they can exchange views and express their values pertaining to the problem resolution provided that they are well-informed by the best available scientific background.
Second, the process develops natural resource decision-making procedures that provide many opportunities for public comment and generates various options for management consideration as well as further public scrutiny and debate. To analyze public input as part of the process, the authors advocate the use of formal, quantitative models of stakeholder preferences, called “preference elicitation models”— a particular social science technique borrowed from marketing and polling analyses. Cultural values may not be amenable to preference elicitation models, however, other ethnographically oriented approaches may be better suited to capture and analyze competing values, such as those found in Joanne Bauer, ed. Forging Environmentalism (2006). Regardless of the approach, Balint and colleagues demonstrate that the solutions to wicked problems must incorporate cultural values. To ignore them is to be oddly unempirical and profoundly unaware that all natural resource problems are fundamentally human problems. Both specialist and general readers will find much to engage them by reading Wicked Environmental Problems as they participate in their own enhanced learning networks.
——————————————————————————————————————– David Jenkins
Washington, DC: Island Press, 2011. 272pp. ISBN 9781597264754. US $40.00. Paperback. Acid free paper.