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New UL research to design better ways of dealing with ‘Wicked Problems’

Dr Fergal Lynch, Secretary General of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Professor Sean Redmond
Dr Fergal Lynch, Secretary General of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Professor Sean Redmond
Thu, 14 Nov 2019

A new executive leadership programme jointly devised by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and University of Limerick seeks to devise new ways of addressing wicked problems. Wicked problems are those problems which are resistant to change, morph over time, turn would-be ideal solutions into worse problems and are the ones that persist; no-go zones in urban areas, serious drug related activity and lack of pro-social leadership in communities devastated by routine criminal activity are examples. Large scale evidence based programmes tip away at the edges of wicked problems. Wicked problems severely expose the silos of the state, refusing to be bound by the administrative remit of one state agency or the other. Most significant of all wicked problems tend to be context specific.

The executive programme designed by Professor Sean Redmond and Dr John Bamber selects a group of key leaders fulfilling a wide range of roles in a given locality, exposes the group to the latest thinking on addressing complex harms and facilitates the group through a rigorous process of problem-centred programme design. The approach builds on work by the University of Limerick to design interventions for children caught up in crime networks and more recently the design and delivery of a pilot executive programme with an executive leadership team from Dublin’s North East Inner City.

The partnership will see the delivery of six new executive leadership programmes over 2019-2021 and the development of a new Masters Programme in evidence informed design.

Commenting on the new partnership, Conor Rowley from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said: ‘We are very keen to see the translation of high quality evidence into practices that will positively affect the lives of children, young people and communities. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs leads the Quality and Capacity Building Initiative to act as a vehicle for this effort. As we know, most off-the-peg programmes and approaches struggle when they deal with very complex situations so a different approach is required. We trialled the approach developed by the University of Limerick with leadership selected from the North East Inner City of Dublin between November 2018-Jan 2019 and the feedback from participants has been extremely positive, both in terms of the quality of programme and its ability to co-design meaningful, realistic and innovative solutions to very complicated problems..’

Professor Sean Redmond said: ‘Most evidence based approaches deal with tame problems not wicked problems. They deal with one aspect of a problem or can only promise a limited effect in situations which may seem overwhelming and chaotic. All too often programme solutions get proposed for problems that have not yet been understood and this gets most exposed with wicked problems. What we have tried to do with this programme is develop a rigorous process which taps the expert craft knowledge of carefully selected leadership teams. Our recent experience with the leadership team from the North East Inner City of Dublin leads us to think we may be on to something. This programme will have the added benefit of generating new solutions bespoke for Irish contexts..’