Many courses in social marketing have started up over the last week or so, including an Advanced Social Marketing course I am co-leading as part of the Online Social Marketing Graduate Certificate Program at University of South Florida. The course includes a number of readings, including chapters from my textbook to be published early next year. If you are studying or teaching social marketing now, there are many texts you might be using, and I hope you might consider the book of readings from this blog as one supplemental source. And many you may be interested in what my new book may be covering.
For the next 14 weeks of so, I intend to post a brief excerpt from each of the chapters of Social Marketing and Social Change: Strategies and Tools for Improving Health, Well-Being and the Environment. Hopefully you'll find them interesting in their own right, but also useful for starting conversations about social marketing in the classroom and where you work. The first selection is about wicked problems, something I first touched on in the post on The Change We Need: New Ways of Thinking About Social Issues.
[Click on image to enlarge and sharpen]
In many disciplines the dominant model of defining and solving problems features a scientific-rational approach that assumes every problem is definable, understandable, and consensual (that is, everyone can agree on the causes and proposed solutions). This approach has worked quite well in many cases involving developing mass transportation, preventing infectious diseases, providing clean water and sanitation, and improving access to health services (though there is clearly a need to further improve access and equity for all people everywhere). Rittell and Webber (1973) distinguished between these tame problems, with clear causes and solutions that can be achieved by these deductive approaches, and wicked problems, which are diabolical in their ability to resist the usual ways of resolving problems.
A wicked problem involves complex issues and defies complete definition, its stakeholders have different ideas about what the real problem is and what the solution is, there is no final solution, and given that any solution will generate further issues, that solution is merely the best that can be done at that time. For example, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC; 2007) notes in its publication Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective, that issues as diverse as climate change, obesity, indigenous disadvantage (disparities between native populations and majorities), and land degradation are complex, or 'wicked,' policy problems. “Usually,” the commission says, “part of the solution to wicked problems involves changing the behaviour of groups of citizens or all citizens. Other key ingredients in solving or at least managing complex policy problems include successfully working across both internal and external organizational boundaries and engaging citizens and stakeholders in policy making and implementation. Wicked problems require innovative, comprehensive solutions that can be modified in the light of experience and on-the-ground feedback. All of the above can pose challenges to traditional approaches to policy making and programme implementation” (p. 1).
From my perspective this statement offers a compelling rationale for using social marketing approaches - they are important for improving social welfare, the well-being of people, and the health of our planet. It also propels the idea that social marketing can and should look beyond behavior change in its contribution to social change…
Linear models for solving problems are not relevant to most social issues of our time. Wicked problems require innovative and flexible solutions, yet most programs are locked into highly regimented and prescribed step-by-step processes that might work for people doing experiments or changing a discrete behavior for awhile but that have little validity in the messy world we live and work in. Social marketing, as I will demonstrate in this book, provides a framework for and a variety of approaches to solving environmental, health, and social puzzles (and the tame problems too). Yes, we can continue to pick around the edges of issues such as overconsumption, climate change, tobacco use, malaria control, poverty, and obesity with what worked in the past for different types of problems - but only at the risk of becoming inconsequential to real change. Or we can start thinking about using social marketing as a planned approach to social innovation.
Australian Public Service Commission. (2007). Tackling wicked problems: A public policy
perspective. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Rittell, H.W.J., & Webber, M.M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences; 4: 155-169.