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  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2022

Wicked Problems in Public Policy

Understanding and Responding to Complex Challenges

Palgrave Macmillan


  • First comprehensive overview of the 'wicked problems' field

  • Written by perhaps the best-placed researcher in the field, globally

  • Appeals to academics researching this hot topic, but also to policy practitioners and those advocating solutions

  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (7 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-vii
  2. Introduction

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 1-6
    2. Political Governance of Wicked Problems

      • Brian W. Head
      Pages 37-60Open Access
    3. Complexity, Crises and Coping Strategies

      • Brian W. Head
      Pages 61-82Open Access
    4. Managing Environmental and Sustainability Challenges

      • Brian W. Head
      Pages 83-106Open Access
    5. Improving Social Well-Being and Social Equity

      • Brian W. Head
      Pages 107-122Open Access
    6. Policy Innovation in Turbulent Times

      • Brian W. Head
      Pages 123-139Open Access
  3. Back Matter

    Pages 141-176

About this book

This is an open access book.
This book offers the first overview of the ‘wicked problems’ literature, often seen as complex, open-ended, and intractable, with both the nature of the ‘problem’ and the preferred ‘solution’ being strongly contested. It contextualises the debate using a wide range of relevant policy examples, explaining why these issues attract so much attention.

There is an increasing interest in the conceptual and practical aspects of how ‘wicked problems’ are identified, understood and managed by policy practitioners. The standard public management responses to complexity and uncertainty (including traditional regulation and market-based solutions) are insufficient. Leaders often advocate and implement ideological ‘quick fixes’, but integrative and inclusive responses are increasingly being utilised to recognise the multiple interests and complex causes of these problems. This book uses examples from a wide range of social, economic and environmental fields in order to develop new insights about better solutions, and thus gain broad stakeholder acceptance for shared strategies for tackling ‘wicked problems’.


  • wicked problems
  • Black Swans
  • public management
  • policymaking
  • sustainability
  • social inequalities
  • borders
  • mobility
  • Open Access


"The concept of wicked problems has become very commonly used, and abused, in contemporary studies of public policy.  While expressing some appropriate skepticism about the concept, Brian Head uses the idea to analyse the numerous difficult problems facing governments in the 21st century.  He demonstrates ways in which governments can, and should, address these pressing problems, which makes this essential reading for both scholars and practitioners." (B. Guy Peters, Maurice Falk Professor of American Government, University of Pittsburgh, USA)

"With scholarship that combines deep conceptual knowledge with practitioner insights, Brian Head unpacks some of the most pressing and complex policy challenges we all face. Rich with empirical detail, this book looks set to become the definitive work on wicked issues and what to do about them." (Claire A. Dunlop, Professor of Politics, University of Exeter, UK)

"This book provides a concise introduction to the concept and management of “wicked” problems: the kind of poorly-structured, intractable policy problems with unknown solutions with which policy-makers, unfortunately, must engage on a frequent basis. It discusses the concept from its origins to its development, refinement and use in more recent works, and sets out seven strategies by which governments historically have attempted to deal with such problems. These strategies are then applied to many difficult examples in the contemporary world such as environmental sustainability and climate change, improving social wellbeing and equity, the rise of digital technology, and COVID-19, among others. The discussion is crisp and clear and the lessons derived from the cases equally clear, convincing, and useful to practitioners and academics alike." (Michael Howlett, Burnaby Mountain Professor and Canada Research Chair, Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Authors and Affiliations

  • School of Political Science, Bldg GPN3, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

    Brian W. Head

About the author

Brian Head is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is the editor or co-author of 12 books and over 100 academic articles on public management, governance, social issues and environmental policy. 

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Wicked Problems in Public Policy

  • Book Subtitle: Understanding and Responding to Complex Challenges

  • Authors: Brian W. Head

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Political Science and International Studies, Political Science and International Studies (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Author(s) 2022

  • License: CC BY

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-94579-4Published: 04 March 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-94580-0Published: 03 March 2022

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: VII, 176

  • Number of Illustrations: 1 b/w illustrations, 1 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Public Policy

Buying options

Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)