Dilemmas in a general theory of planning


The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, becuase of the nature of these problems. They are “wicked” problems, whereas science has developed to deal with “tame” problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about “optimal solutions” to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no “solutions” in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

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This is a modification of a paper presented to the Panel on Policy Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, December 1969.

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Rittel, H.W.J., Webber, M.M. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sci 4, 155–169 (1973). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01405730

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  • General Theory
  • Public Good
  • Economic Policy
  • Social Policy
  • Scientific Basis