Social messes: Robert E. Horn

Social messes: Robert E. Horn

The Climate Change Labyrinth, Robert E. Horn

Robert Horn, The Climate Policy Labyrinth Info-Mural [Original image (PDF, 1 Mb)]

See Bob Horn’s page with many other examples and his The Little Book of Wicked Problems and Social Messes here (updated Nov12 2020)

See also:

Characteristics of Social Messes (image file)

Comparison of ill-Structured and Tame Problems (image file)

Mess images:

New Tools For Resolving Wicked Problems: Mess Mapping and Resolution Mapping Processes, Robert E. Horn and Robert P. Weber;Strategy Kinetics L.L.C., 2007.

Features of social messes

  • No unique “correct” view of the problem
  • Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions
  • Most problems are connected to other problems
  • Data are often uncertain or missing
  • Multiple value conflicts
  • Ideological and cultural constraints
  • Political constraints
  • Economic constraints
  • Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking
  • Numerous possible intervention points
  • Consequences difficult to imagine
  • Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity
  • Great resistance to change
  • Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

Resolution Mapping and Mess Mapping are each powerful process and analytic tools for helping stakeholders resolve Wicked Problems. These tools can be successful where others have failed (or have feared to tread) because they incorporate or address:

  • Uncertainty and risk
  • Complexity
  • Systems interacting with other systems
  • Competing points of view and values
  • Different people knowing different parts of the problem (and possible solutions)
  • Intra- and Inter-organizational politics.

We say resolution rather than solution. Like most important problems, Social Messes exist in a dynamic, changing world. Thus, ameliorative efforts may have substantial, yet impermanent effects.

Analysis and Design of Information for Complex Social Messes-Case Study – UK Energy and Climate Change Policy, Robert E, Horn, MediaX Stanford University, 2007, Part 1 (PowerPoint) Part 2 (PowerPoint).

Connecting the Smudges: How Analytic Info-Murals May Be of Help in Dealing With Social Messes, Robert E. Horn, 2-6 May, 2005.

New visualization methods can help deal with social messes (also known as “ill-structured” or “wicked” problems). Social messes are more than complicated problems. They are very complex and ambiguous. They require visualization techniques that, we might say, are composed of smudges.
Our project at Stanford University been developing new forms of “information murals” to help task forces address such smudgy social messes. Some of the problems addressed are: severe limitations of ordinary prose documents to communicate complex subject matter;  the necessity to help groups create common mental models; and the need to show context and multiple views for strategy discussions and decisions. These info-murals provide the scaffolding for thinking bigger thoughts. They facilitate seeing the big picture as well as needed detail. They reveal new and novel patterns. They sometimes even enable us to connect the smudges.
Our visualization research addresses such challenges as how to: show large processes or larger contexts that form the background of public policy issues; represent serious and complex debates; portray different cultures; represent multiple strategies; understand ideologies; get a more comprehensive picture of unknowns; represent mindsets and
worldviews, including one’s own.

To Think Bigger Thoughts, Robert Horn 2003.

(NB Large PowerPoint files)

Part 1
Social Messes and Big Thoughts
Visual Language
Part 2
Four Case Studies – Knowledge Maps
1. Cross-Boundary Causality Maps
Part 3
Four Case Studies – Knowledge Maps (continued)
2. Maps about What We Don’t Know
3. Strategy Maps
4. Argumentation maps

Knowledge Mapping for Complex Social Messes, Robert E. Horn, 16 July 2001.

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
17 May 2008