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Health Educ Behav. 2004 Aug;31(4):441-54.

Understanding wicked problems: a key to advancing environmental health promotion.

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  • 1Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, Georgia 30033, USA.


Complex environmental health problems--like air and water pollution, hazardous waste sites, and lead poisoning--are in reality a constellation of linked problems embedded in the fabric of the communities in which they occur. These kinds of complex problems have been characterized by some as "wicked problems" wherein stakeholders may have conflicting interpretations of the problem and the science behind it, as well as different values, goals, and life experiences. Accordingly, policy makers, public health professionals, and other stakeholders who grapple with these problems cannot expect to effectively resolve them by relying solely on expert-driven approaches to problem solving. Rather, they need to acknowledge that wicked environmental health problems are most likely to yield to (1) the application of effective community health promotion skills, (2) a sustained commitment to sound toxicological and epidemiological science, (3) the application of systems thinking, and (4) transparent communication among all stakeholders.

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