Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, in their 1973 article "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," describe the following characteristics of wicked problems :
- "There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem" – solving the problem is analogous to understanding it.
- "Wicked problems have no stopping rule" – the problem has no intrinsic criteria to indicate that a solution is sufficient; solutions depend rather on the planner deciding to stop planning.
- "Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad" – the judgement of a solution's fitness by parties involved will be filtered through their values and their predisposed ideology. These judgements are usually "expressed as 'good' or 'bad' or, more likely, as 'better or worse' or 'satisfying' or 'good enough.'"
- "There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem" – solutions can have far-reaching and not always clear effects in both time and scope. Likewise, the desirability of the outcomes may not become clear until much later.
- "Every solution to a wicked problem is a 'one-shot operation'; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly" – actions taken in response to the problem affect the options available to future solutions.
- "Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan" – it is not possible to demonstrate that all possible solutions have been considered or even identified.
- "Every wicked problem is essentially unique" – The meaning of essentially unique is given as "despite long lists of similarities between a current problem and a previous one, there always might be an additional distinguishing property that is of overriding importance."
- "Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem" – every identified cause leads to a "higher level" problem of which the current problem is a symptom. As a result, incremental approaches or marginal improvements may have little or no impact on the problem.
- "The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution" – The way a problem is described influences the solutions proposed.
- "The planner has no right to be wrong" – The goal of a solution is not to find an ultimate truth about the world, rather it is to improve conditions for those who inhabit it.
We assert that vulnerability disclosure can be thought of as a wicked problem, offering this document as evidence to that effect.
- H. W. Rittel and M. M. Webber, "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," Policy Sciences, vol. 4, no. 1973, pp. 155-169, June 1973.