Conceptual and Methodological Advances
Edited by Henk A. Becker and Frank Vanclay
Chapter 17: Handling Complex Societal Problems
Dorien DeTombe What are complex societal problems? There are many problems that can be categorized as ‘complex societal problems’. These are problems where the ‘solution’ is to be found at the societal level. Complex societal problems are real-life problems reﬂecting much uncertainty and are therefore hard to deal with. Complex societal problems are often unique in the course of their progress, although they may have occurred many times before. This means that there is no routine way of solving them. Complex societal problems are often ill-deﬁned, multifaceted, as well as hard to analyse, to structure and to change. Knowledge and data are missing and/or contradictory. The causes of the problem are vague or ambiguous. It is diﬃcult to see where, when and by whom the problem was started, who is involved in the problem and who is not, and who is aﬀected by the problem. Although many phenomena, actors (private and governmental) and people are involved, it is seldom clear beforehand which are involved. There may be a changing group of actors. Each actor has their own views about the problem, their own goals, power and emotion. Complex societal problems are unstructured and dynamic. They have a considerable impact on society at the macro, meso and the micro levels. Sometimes they are local problems, although mostly they are region-wide or even worldwide. They can be found in all countries of the world. It is often uncertain what impact the problem has on society, what the goals...
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