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Designing interagency responses to wicked problems: A viable system model board game

Author

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  • Sydelko, Pamela
  • Espinosa, Angela
  • Midgley, Gerald

Abstract

Government agencies struggle to address wicked problems because they are open-ended, highly interdependent issues that cross agency, stakeholder, jurisdictional, and geopolitical boundaries. While both quantitative modelling and qualitative problem structuring methodologies have been used to support interagency decision making in the past, co-designing an effective interagency organization to collaboratively tackle wicked problems is more challenging. Few approaches have been developed to enable such efforts. This paper explains how the viable system model (VSM) was implemented through a board game, which was employed to co-design an interagency meta-organization that would be capable of more effectively collaborating to jointly address a wicked problem: international organized drug crime and its interface with local gangs in Chicago, USA. The board game was developed to make the VSM easier for the participants to learn, given that the cybernetic language and engineering-influenced diagrams in the original literature can be off-putting to leaders and managers. The board game was used as the final stage of a multi-method, systemic approach, which involved boundary critique and problem structuring as well as deployment of the VSM. The research findings indicate that the VSM board game, used as part of a larger mixed-methods systemic intervention, contributes to building trust in the value of systems thinking amongst the participants, and sets up a rich context for collaboration on multi-agency co-design. The game therefore offers significant promise as part of the co-design of interagency responses to wicked problems because it creates an embodied process for stakeholders to learn about the VSM. It also reduces the work involved in this learning. Thus, the game enables an effective appropriation of the VSM language and criteria.

Suggested Citation

  • Sydelko, Pamela & Espinosa, Angela & Midgley, Gerald, 2024. "Designing interagency responses to wicked problems: A viable system model board game," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 312(2), pages 746-764.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ejores:v:312:y:2024:i:2:p:746-764
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ejor.2023.06.040
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