• Clumsy solutions;
  • Decision analysis;
  • Environmental management;
  • Transdisciplinary learning;
  • Wicked problems


Because controversy, conflict, and lawsuits frequently characterize US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) decisions, it is important that USEPA decision makers understand how to evaluate and then make decisions that have simultaneously science-based, social, and political implications. Air quality management is one category of multidimensional decision making at USEPA. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metropolitan area experiences unhealthy levels of ozone, fine particulate matter, and air toxics. Many ozone precursors are precursors for particulate matter and certain air toxics. Additionally, some precursors for particulate matter are air toxics. However, air quality management practices have typically evaluated these problems separately. This approach has led to the development of independent (and potentially counterproductive) implementation strategies. This is a methods article about the necessity and feasibility of using a clumsy approach on wicked problems, using an example case study. Air quality management in Philadelphia is a wicked problem. Wicked problems are those where stakeholders define or view the problem differently, there are many different ways to describe the problem (i.e., different dimensions or levels of abstraction), no efficient or optimal solutions exist, and they are often complicated by moral, political, or professional dimensions. The USEPA has developed the multicriteria integrated resource assessment (MIRA) decision analytic approach that engages stakeholder participation through transparency, transdisciplinary learning, and the explicit use of value sets; in other words, a clumsy approach. MIRA's approach to handling technical indicators, expert judgment, and stakeholder values makes it a potentially effective method for tackling wicked environmental problems. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2013; 9: 17–30. © 2012 SETAC