Wicked Problems, Knowledge Challenges, and Collaborative Capacity Builders in Network Settings


Edward P. Weber is director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service and associate professor of political science at Washington State University. He is the author of Pluralism by the Rules: Conflict and Cooperation in Environmental Regulation (Georgetown University Press, 1998), Bringing Society Back In: Grassroots Ecosystem Management, Accountability, and Sustainable Communities (MIT Press, 2003), and many articles examining the growing use of innovative regulatory programs, accountability, and entrepreneurial public management frameworks.
E-mail: weber@wsu.edu

Anne M. Khademian is an associate professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy and the School for Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. She is the author of Working With Culture: The Way the Job Gets Done in Public Programs (CQ Press, 2002), Checking on Banks: Autonomy and Accountability in Three Federal Programs (Brookings Institution, 1996), The SEC and Capital Market Regulation: The Politics of Expertise (Pittsburgh 1992), and articles in public management and public policy.
E-mail: akhademi@vt.edu


Networks have assumed a place of prominence in the literature on public and private governing structures. The many positive attributes of networks are often featured—the capacity to solve problems, govern shared resources, create learning opportunities, and address shared goals—and a literature focused on the challenges networks pose for managers seeking to realize these network attributes is developing. The authors share an interest in understanding the potential of networks to govern complex public, or “wicked,” problems. A fundamental challenge to effectively managing any public problem in a networked setting is the transfer, receipt and integration of knowledge across participants. When knowledge is viewed pragmatically, the challenge is particularly acute. This perspective, the authors argue, presents a challenge to the network literature to consider the mind-set of the managers—or collaborative capacity-builders—who are working to achieve solutions to wicked problems. This mind-set guides network managers as they apply their skills, strategies, and tools in order to foster the transfer, receipt, and integration of knowledge across the network and, ultimately, to build long-term collaborative problem-solving capacity.