Tackling the world’s wicked problems one community at a time

The term “wicked problems” was coined in the 1960s and developed throughout the 1970s to encompass the host of difficult characteristics (and many more) we discussed a couple of posts ago.


Historically, the term come into currency during a time that was strained politically, increasingly complex, and fraught with risks the likes of which the international community had never seen before. With the increasing interconnectedness of the world, ratcheting ideological friction, and existential angst in the wake of the Cold War, the wicked problems dial was hovering around “11.”

Many would make the case that it’s remained there. In 2016 we still face political and financial uncertainty, a wealth gap, and unprecedented social and ideological upheaval.

As a company, we know we can’t take all the world’s wicked problems on. What we can do is work in our neighbourhoods and communities with public, not-for-profit, and corporate clients to solve the specific issues that consume them, whether they relate to community engagement, access to services, equity, or developing a value proposition for the work they are so passionate about.

That’s what we love doing at Siena.

One of the most rewarding aspects of taking on a challenging project is seeing how the solutions continue to develop into the future. For example, Siena was hired by the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to develop a strategic alliance and partnership program in the area of early childhood development (ECD). Research had identified the early years (up to age 6) as most critical to a child’s development, and shown that for every education-related dollar spent during the early years, many dollars would be saved later by the health care and justice systems.


The more valued, successful, and safe a child feels during the early years, the less likely they will be to engage in behaviour that is harmful to themselves or others.


characteristic-3characteristic-5Siena advised MCFD that multiple stakeholders in the not-for-profit and corporate sectors, jointly and independently, had demonstrated a commitment to support early childhood development programs and services.

The goal was to strike up a strategic alliance around ECD that would operate at the provincial level, which would enable representatives working on independent initiatives to collaborate and form lasting links. This in turn would enable them to address emerging issues in the future.

Siena found that a lack of cooperation and collaboration had resulted in fragmentation. Solutions were being developed in isolation, and knowledge wasn’t being effectively pooled. Often MCFD and not-for-profits were referencing the very same research, MCFD to decide what to fund, and the not-for-profits to decide what programs to develop. What was missing was conversation between them. By developing an asset and relationship map, Siena was able to help identify points of intersection between the various parties.

characteristic-6Siena also identified lack of funds as a barrier to supporting programs that would make a positive difference to young children and their families. Over a four-month period Siena held meetings with not-for-profit, public, and private sectors to select a corporate partner with provincial scope to its activities that could support the new alliance by:

1 – Promoting the value of ECD
2 – Assisting with fundraising for ECD initiatives
3 – Providing additional infrastructure assistance as needed


Siena brought Credit Union Central of BC, BC United Ways, and the provincial government together to form the ECD Provincial Partnership (ECD PP) to advance early childhood development in BC, using the United Way’s Success by 6® model. The BC government provided a one-time grant of $10 million to fund the program.

characteristic-9The ECD PP continues to be a work in progress. Examples of ongoing collaborative activities include identifying barriers/gaps in ECD services, developing public awareness campaigns, creating a resource directory, planning Aboriginal cultural events, and developing new playgrounds and early years service hubs.

There will always be new challenges and issues, and wicked problems, but a strong partnership and a strategic plan provide a solid foundation to address them when they arise.


At Siena we often find wicked problems to be the most satisfying ones—the ones we can get our teeth into and make sense of.

What about you? What problems are you working on?