Tackling Wicked Problems

VP Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD

When I say “wicked,” most of you know I am not referring to the popular musical or the simple concept of evil. I am referring to Horst Rittel’s idea of wicked problems. These problems are “wicked” because they resist solution because they involve societal interdependencies because what appears to be a solution in one area causes new problems in another. Wicked problems are too big, too complex to be solved from one perspective alone.

Wicked problems we see in healthcare include things like:

  • The impact of early childhood deprivation on brain development.
  • The need for information management systems that improve the care experience for both patients and practitioners.
  • The disparity in health equity in Minnesota, particularly in the state’s rural and low-income populations.

Last Tuesday, we had the first of a series of meetings in the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs to bring together our expertise across the University to think through actionable ideas that can improve outcomes for patients, families, and communities.

Experts from across the entire University came together to identify problems and resources, look at existing interdisciplinary efforts as models, and to brainstorm how we can all work together to tackle these wicked problems. The scale and interrelatedness of the impact of health on society was reflected in the participation at this first meeting. Representatives came from all of these areas:

Carlson School of Management University of Minnesota Foundation
Humphrey School of Public Affairs College of Liberal Arts
School of Public Health College of Design
College of Science and Engineering College of Education and Human Development
College of Pharmacy Institute of Health Informatics
School of Dentistry CUHCC (Community and University Health Care Clinic)
School of Nursing UMN Extension
College of Veterinary Medicine Medical School

As a land-grant University, it is our responsibility to leverage this breadth of discipline and knowledge for the benefit of our state. Bringing unique understanding and expertise together in new ways will be the key to improving health and healthcare.

We hope that you will find a way to join us.

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