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A Philosophy for Working on Wicked Problems


A wicked problem is a term used in policy analysis to describe an environmental situation where no matter what policy actions are taken there are still going to be unacceptable losses. Examples of wicked problems can be found in climate change, endangered species, invasive species and environmental justice issues.

In order to deal with the psychological stress of threat and uncertainty associated with wicked problems many people are tempted to take a strong position, such as moral outrage. This approach has its place (i.e., activism) and can work in the short term, but can be deleterious to your work and mental health in the long term.

In the attached paper I share my own philosophy for engaging in wicked problems while also protecting my sense of virtue and purpose as a professional.


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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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