Many of the most pressing sustainability issues are not purely technical problems. To work for sustainable development (SD) requires addressing wicked sustainability problems (WSPs), such as climate change, poverty, and resource scarcity. Previous research has shown that addressing WSPs is challenging for engineering students. In particular, students may feel overwhelmed by a WSP if they lack appropriate tools for dealing with the complexity, uncertainty, and value conflicts that are present in the situation. In this paper, we aim to investigate whether systems thinking competence (ST) can provide such a tool in engineering education for sustainable development (EESD). For this purpose, we elaborate on previous descriptions of WSPs, and draw on (E)ESD literature about ST to discuss different approaches to ST and their usefulness for addressing WSPs. We conclude that ST indeed can be valuable for addressing WSPs, but that it is necessary to be clear about how ST is defined. We suggest that mainstream approaches to ST in engineering education (EngE) are not sufficient for addressing WSPs.
- Systems thinking competence
- Wicked sustainability problems
- Sustainable development
- Engineering education
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21.
Cho, K., & Jonassen, D. H. (2002). The effects of argumentation scaffolds on argumentation and problem solving. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 5–22.
Claesson, A. N., & Svanström, M. (2013). Systems thinking for sustainable development-what does it mean and how is it formed? Cambridge, UK: Engineering Education for Sustainable Development, 22–25 Sept 2013.
Farrell, R., & Hooker, C. (2013). Design, science and wicked problems. Design Studies, 34(6), 681–705.
Farrell, R., & Hooker, C. (2014). Values and norms between design and science. Design Issues, 30(3), 29–38.
Fernandes, R., & Simon, H. A. (1999). A study of how individuals solve complex and ill-structured problems. Policy Sciences, 32, 225–245.
Jonassen, D. H. (1997). Instructional design models for well-structured and Ill-structured problem-solving learning outcomes. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(1), 65–94.
Jonassen, D. H. (2000). Toward a design theory of problem solving. Educational Technology and Research Development 48(4), 63–85.
Jonassen, D., Strobel, J., & Beng Lee, C. (2006). Everyday problem solving in engineering: Lessons for engineering educators. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(2), 139–151.
King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kitchener, K. S. (1983). Cognition, metacognition and epistemic cognition: A three-level model of cognitive development. Human Development, 26, 222–232.
Lönngren, J. (2014). Engineering Students’ Ways of Relating to Wicked Sustainability Problems. Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Applied IT, Chalmers.
Lönngren, J., Ingerman, Å., & Svanström, M. (forthcoming). Avoid. Control, Succumb, or Balance: Engineering Students’ Conceptions of and Approaches to a Wicked Sustainability Problem.
Porter, T., & Córdoba, J. (2009). Three views of systems theories and their implications for sustainability education. Journal of Management Education, 33(323), 323–347.
Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. W. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169.
Seager, T., Selinger, E., & Wiek, A. (2012). Sustainable engineering science for resolving wicked problems. Journal of Agricultural Environmental Ethics, 25, 467–484.
Simon, H. A. (1973). The structure of ill-structured problems. Artificial Intelligence, 4, 181–201.
Simon, H. A. (1981). The sciences of the artificial (Vol. 2). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Sprain, L., & Timpson, W. M. (2012). Pedagogy for sustainability science: Case-based approaches for interdisciplinary instruction. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 6(4), 532–550.
Voss, J. F. (1987). Learning and transfer i subject-matter learning: A problem-solving model. International Journal of Educational Research, 11(6), 607–622.
Voss, J. F., Greene, T. R., Post, T. A., & Penner, B. C. (1983). Problem-solving skills in the social sciences. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 17, 165–213.
Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, 6, 203–218.
Editors and Affiliations
Rights and permissions
© 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Lönngren, J., Svanström, M. (2016). Systems Thinking for Dealing with Wicked Sustainability Problems: Beyond Functionalist Approaches. In: Leal Filho, W., Nesbit, S. (eds) New Developments in Engineering Education for Sustainable Development. World Sustainability Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-32933-8_14
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-319-32932-1
Online ISBN: 978-3-319-32933-8
eBook Packages: Earth and Environmental ScienceEarth and Environmental Science (R0)