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  • SOCIETAL CONCERNS AS WICKED PROBLEMS: THE CASE OF TRADE LIBERALISATION 21

    POLICY RESPONSES TO SOCIETAL CONCERNS IN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: PROCEEDINGS OF AN OECD WORKSHOP OECD 2010

    SOCIETAL CONCERNS AS WICKED PROBLEMS:

    THE CASE OF TRADE LIBERALISATION

    Sandra S. Batie and David B. Schweikhardt1

    Trade negotiations are increasingly affected by social concerns beyond those of

    economic efficiency. Such concerns are those that originate from generally or broadly

    accepted values of society appealing to a broad range of its members. New concerns spring

    up in response to evolving views and developments in such areas as new technologies, the

    environmental impact of agriculture, and rural structural change (Tothova, 2009). Societal

    concerns may develop with respect to non-commodity outputs (e.g. improved water quality,

    emission of greenhouse gases, or animal welfare), commodity outputs (e.g. pesticide

    residues or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), or they can involve processes and

    production methods unincorporated in the final product (e.g. sustainability or fair trade

    attributes) (Tothova, 2009). These culturally determined social concerns appear to be

    multiplying and pose dilemmas for both the development of international trade agreements

    and for domestic agricultural policy. For example, how can the competing goals of trade

    liberalisation and regulatory self determination of World Trade Organization (WTO)

    members be balanced? And, which social concerns are legitimate value choices and which

    are merely trade protection arguments (Winickoff et al., 2005)?

    Societal concerns can be divided into whether they are tame or wicked problems

    (Rittell and Weber, 1973). The term wicked, in this context, does not refer to something

    evil, but rather it refers to social problems that are highly resistant to resolution (Australian

    Government, 2007). Wicked problems are those which are difficult to describe (e.g. they

    are messy), they are the subject of considerable political debate, and they are unlikely to

    have an optimal solution (Busch, 2009). As such wicked problems are not solved; they are,

    at best, managed.1

    There are many additional dimensions of tame problems that can be contrasted with

    wicked ones. Such distinctions include whether (1) there is a clear definition of the

    problem, (2) the role of stakeholders vs. experts, and (3) the role played by science in

    addressing the problem. In addition, wicked problems have many interdependencies and are

    often multi-causal; attempts to address wicked problems frequently result in unintended

    consequences; they tend to be unstable so that they are a moving target; they usually are

    quite socially complex; they rarely are the responsibility of any single organisation; and,

    they often involve changes in individual behaviours (Australian Government, 2007).

    Table 1 summarizes some of these characteristics.

    1. Sandra S. Batie, Elton R. Smith Professor of Food and Agricultural Policy and

    David Schweikhardt, Professor, Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics at

    Michigan State University. This paper draws in part on Batie (2008).

  • 22 SOCIETAL CONCERNS AS WICKED PROBLEMS: THE CASE OF TRADE LIBERALISATION

    POLICY RESPONSES TO SOCIETAL CONCERNS IN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: PROCEEDINGS OF AN OECD WORKSHOP OECD 2010

    Table 1. Summary of differences between tame and wicked problems

    Characteristic Tame Problem Wicked Problem

    1. The problem The clear definition of the problem also unveils the solution.

    ****

    The outcome is true of false, successful or unsuccessful.

    ****

    The problem does not change overtime.

    No agreement exists about what the problem is. Each attempt to create a solution changes the problem.

    ***

    The solution is not true or falsethe end is assessed as better or worse or good enough.

    ***

    The problem changes overtime. 2. The role of stakeholders

    The causes of a problem are determined primarily by experts using scientific data.

    Many stakeholders are likely to have differing ideas about what the real problem is and what are its causes.

    3. The stopping rule

    The task is completed when the problem is solved.

    The end is accompanied by stakeholders, political forces, and resource availability. There is no definitive solution.

    4. Nature of the problem

    Scientifically based protocols guide the choice of solution(s).

    ****

    The problem is associated with low uncertainty as to system components and outcomes.

    ****

    There are shared values as to the desirability of the outcomes.

    Solution(s) to problem is (are) based on judgments of multiple stakeholders.

    ****

    The problem is associated with high uncertainty as to system components and outcomes.

    ****

    There are not shared values with respect to societal goals.

    Source: Adapted from Kreuter et al. 2004.

    Figure 1 illustrates two crucial distinctions between tame and wicked problems. Tame

    problems are those problems where there is (a) low uncertainty associated with causes and

    effects and (b) there is low social conflict over the desirability of possible problem

    resolutions. Neither situation is the case with wicked problems; with wicked problems,

    there is considerable scientific uncertainty and considerable controversy over the means to

    address the problem. There are numerous examples of wicked problems: animal welfare,

    climate change, GMO food production, and trade liberalisation are just four of them. It is

    important to recognise whether a policy issue or problem is more tame or more wicked in

    nature, because this characteristic influences the use of science (including risk assessments)

    in addressing the problem and in identifying potential solutions, as well as the need to

    involve those who have an interest in resolving the problem(s).

  • SOCIETAL CONCERNS AS WICKED PROBLEMS: THE CASE OF TRADE LIBERALISATION 23

    POLICY RESPONSES TO SOCIETAL CONCERNS IN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: PROCEEDINGS OF AN OECD WORKSHOP OECD 2010

    Figure 1. Tame vs. wicked problems

    Source: Batie (2008).

    There is a long history of science (and risk assessments) addressing tame problems:

    There is less experience with the use of science (and risk assessments) for more wicked

    ones. After a review of those relationships and why they matter, the case of trade

    liberalisation is used as an illustration of why the type of the problem as tame or wicked

    influences effective policy development and implementation. Implications can then be

    drawn for how to address those policy issues that involve wicked social concerns.

    Linear science, knowledge, and policy development

    Historically, normal science (i.e. conventional or mainstream science), has had a close

    relationship with the creation of policy alternatives to address social concerns (Funtowicz

    and Ravetz, 1993; Stokes, 1997). During much of the post-World War II period,2 the

    production of knowledge by normal science has been guided, almost exclusively, by a

    linear model. This relationship works far better, the tamer the problem. The normal science

    model is illustrated in Figure 2 and can be summarised: [B]asic research, conducted by

    scientists who are largely autonomous, is a resource for applied research. Applied research

    is the source of results useful to practical concerns, including policy development

    (Pielke Jr., 2007). In this model, scientific knowledge flows into a reservoir that can then be

    drawn upon by society to create beneficial technologies and outcomes. Basic science tends

    to be judged by criteria internal to science, such as disciplinary standards, whereas applied

    research and development tends to be judged by criteria external to science, such as the

    potential usefulness to society (Pielke Jr.and Byerly Jr., 1998; Stokes 1997). Thus, normal

    science frequently has a division between those who do the science and those who use it:

    Autonomy is implicit in the [linear] model, because the reservoir [of scientific knowledge]

    isolates science from society; science assumes no responsibility to apply the knowledge it

    puts into the reservoir, and society does not set scientific priorities (Pielke Jr. and

    Byerly Jr., 1998).

  • 24 SOCIETAL CONCERNS AS WICKED PROBLEMS: THE CASE OF TRADE LIBERALISATION

    POLICY RESPONSES TO SOCIETAL CONCERNS IN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: PROCEEDINGS OF AN OECD WORKSHOP OECD 2010

    Figure 2. Linear, normal science

    Source: Pielke, R.A. Jr., and R. Byerly Jr. 1998.

    Tame problems

    With respect to policies and decision-making, normal science maintains implicit

    assumptions that scientific progress leads to societal progress (Frodeman and Holbrook,

    2007). The assumption is that scientists collect facts and search for objective truths, and

    then, based on these findings, policy makers develop appropriate policies to address social

    concerns (Ascher, 2004; Oreskes, 2004). Within this perspective is the idea that reducing

    scientific uncertainty will reduce political uncertainty, and that reaching a consensus on the

    science is a prerequisite for a political consensus and for policy action to occur (Vatn and

    Bromley 1994). Thus, getting the science right is necessary to settle political