This is the title of a book recently released on Earthscan Press (2019) coming out of ANU lead by Valerie Brown and John Harris. One of our SPoR associates Craig Ashhurst has a chapter in the book on ‘Transcoherence, labels and wicked problems’. Craig has just completed his PhD at ANU in the area of Wicked Problems and Collective Coherence. You can purchase the book here
This book follows on from an earlier text: Brown, Valerie A. and Harris, John A. and Russell, Jacqueline Y; Tackling wicked problems : through the transdisciplinary imagination Edited by Valerie A. Brown, John A. Harris and Jacqueline Y. Russell Earthscan, London ; Washington, DC : 2010. ISBN 978-1-84407-925-4.
Tackling ‘Wicked Problems’ is not new. An understanding of problems as being ‘wicked’ has been around for 40 or more years. A wicked problem is one that is so paradoxical, ‘messy’ and ambiguous that it has no solution. Indeed, the more such problems are tackled as if there is a ‘fix’, the less solvable they become. Rittel and Webber’s work in 1973 is considered foundational to this approach (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01405730 ). More can be read here: https://nnsi.northwestern.edu/social-impact/wicked-problems-what-are-they-and-why-are-they-of-interest-to-nnsi-researchers/
One of the best pieces of research the SIA has ever commissioned was about Safety as a Wicked Problem. This research is available for download here: http://www.peterwagner.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Safety-A-Wicked-Problem2.pdf Unfortunately this solid research seems to have gone nowhere. Safety continues to talk about highly complex systems and complex adaptive systems and has yet to really embrace the challenge of Wickedity (http://www.safetydifferently.com/complicated-complex-systems-in-safety-management/).
I have discussed the issue of Wickedity in my books and on this blog (https://safetyrisk.net/isnt-it-time-we-reformed-the-whs-curriculum/; https://safetyrisk.net/risk-homeostasis-theorywhy-safety-initiatives-go-wrong/ ). The issue of transdisciplinarity is also directly connected to the issue of Wickedity.
Why is this important?
If safety is indeed a wicked problem then simplistic and naïve approaches to it will only make things worse. This is evident with the recent safety reset in Queensland. What we see is that this reset seems to have made things worse (https://safetyrisk.net/what-is-a-safety-reset/ ). Safety is not some cognitive problem as if humans-as-computer can simply be ‘reset’. Unless Safety comes out of its STEM cocoon and adopts a more transdisciplinary approach then it will continue to believe in such naïve approaches, hang on to BBS and zero harm and continue to dream as if things are getting better. As Ashhurst asserts in this new book; unless there is an approach in tackling wicked problems towards ‘transcoherence’ (pp.234ff) then what is most likely to happen is more complex hidden by-products that will surface later making and reconfirming the ‘wickedity’ of the problem.
One certainly can’t come at any sense of transcoherence from a base of zero. Zero doesn’t consult, doesn’t converse, doesn’t engage, doesn’t compromise nor listen, it can’t. Zero cannot transverse anything because it’s an ideology of intolerance. Zero can only be closed, insular and fixed. Zero can only promote stasis not transcoherence. There can never be any education, conversation or learning from a foundation of zero, which is why I don’t work with organizations and associations bogged down in such a philosophy. It can only be when organisations drop the masquerade of zero that a conversation can begin, and zero isn’t interested in talking to anyone unless they start off with the belief in zero.
This new book (Independent Thinking in an Uncertain World, A Mind of One’s Own) should be foundation reading for safety people. It captures the essence of what ails the body of safety. The can be no ‘vision’ for safety and no ethic in risk from a foundation of zero. Any denial of fallibility in ideology can only lead to brutalism. And we saw at the recent NSCA SAFETYconnect conference that zero remains alive and thriving as the filter for how the industry understands itself.