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Wicked Problems Lab: Working on sustainable development


Admission requirements

This course is only available to students of the Honours College TGC

Maximum number of students: 20


Many of the bigger problems facing humanity today, such as climate change, global inequality and poverty, as well as societal marginalization and exclusion, are arguably to a greater or lesser extent wicked. Addressing wicked problems requires a different kind of thinking: a way of thinking that is not so much aimed at solving the issue at hand, but at trying to get a better understanding of what is at stake and at mapping out routes forward based on, by definition, insufficient information in a responsible manner.

The Wicked problems lab is aimed at using this other way of thinking to deal with real world wicked problems. As such, we build upon skills and knowledge gained during the honours class to help address a real-world wicked problem. We will draw upon theoretical notions, concepts and models from a wide arrange of scientific disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, organization studies and policy analysis, but we will put it to good use: to be able to come up with new, potentially fortuitous, ways to approach the problem at hand.

The course consists of four interconnected elements: in-depth readings of scientific materials on the subjects of wicked problems and complexity (1), a research project on a real-world wicked problem (2), in classroom team debates and critical discussions on wicked dilemmas (3), and the writing of argumentative essays. Students are expected to have read all required texts by themselves before each meeting.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will:

  • Understand what it means for policy issues to be complex (i.e. what it means for problems to be wicked) and why dealing with complexity requires a different way of thinking, i.e. nonlinear thinking.

  • Be knowledgeable of key theories and concepts around complexity and wicked problems.

  • Be able to critically interpret, assess, evaluate and discuss the most important dilemmas (for researchers and policy makers) around complexity and wicked problems and suggest ways to deal with them.

  • Be able to use scenario thinking (developing plausible future scenarios and narratives) to design and execute small scale studies on wicked problems.

  • Be able to give strategic advice on wicked problems to real-world policy makers on wicked problems in collaboration with other students.

Programme and timetable

On the right side of the programme front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Blackboard.

The program will look as follows:

  • Session 1: Introduction (outline of the course structure, allotment of debates and cases group project)

  • Session 2: Excursion FMO

  • Session 7: Presentations group project
    During the sessions 3, 4, 5 and if necessary session 6, students engage in team debates and critical discussions based on the required study material and their argumentative essays.

Reading list

Session 1

Compulsory readings:

  • Ritter, H.W.J. & Webber, M.M. Webber. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.

  • Crowley, K. & Head, B.W. (2017). The enduring challenge of ‘wicked problems’: revisiting Ritter and Webber. Policy Sciences, 50(4), 539-547.

Other literature will be announced via the course syllabus.

Course load and teaching method

This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars: 7 seminars of 2 hours (participation is mandatory)

  • Excursion to the Dutch Development Bank FMO in The Hague: 2 hours

  • Compulsory literature reading: approximately 28 hours

  • Student are expected to spend the remaining hours writing their argumentative essays, preparing their debates, or working on their group project.

Assessment methods

The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • Team debate & argumentation outline: 10%

  • Four, out of a potential five, individual argumentative essays: 4x10% = 40%

  • Group project (report & presentation): 50%

Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Registration will be done centrally.
Registration through uSis will be done centrally.

Registration process

TGC coordinator/administration will take care of enrollment.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for this class. Your registration will be done centrally after successful completion of the Class.


Students deepen their knowledge and understanding of wicked problems and complexity theory from different scientific fields, including philosophy, political science, psychology and policy science, develop debating, discussion and academic writing skills, and gain practical experience with scenario thinking.


Yvonne Kleistra, Assistant professor, Dual PhD-Centre, FGGA, Leiden University