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Effectively communicating wicked problems - emotion, ethics, action and those funny little things called facts

After thirty years of enlightening, emancipating and empowering people, Dr Peter Oliver (B.Sc. (Hons) Dip.Ed. M.Ed. PhD) delivered his final lecture. Watch Dr Peter Oliver's retirement lecture on video.

"Effectively communicating wicked problems – emotion, ethics, action, and those funny little things called facts"

Wicked problems are messy. They are not necessarily evil, however, they are almost impossible to solve and are inherently unpredictable.

They exist in many places where human beings are trying to make a better world, and because of this, we need to know what we really value and how those values will impact on what we do before we can take action that makes sense to us.

Scientists and others who use the term 'professional' are usually trained in a positivist way – to be objective and deal only in facts, not emotion. However, the wicked problems that confront us tangle up facts, values and emotion. Working objectively is a two-edged sword. It can solve some problems but it often also creates new ones.

A new way of thinking is called for – one that helps professionals recognise wicked problems and work at the intersection of facts and values.

This presentation is a modern day response to the call of Aristotle to act phronetically (i.e. with practical wisdom), recognising when science is science, and when it is not – to 'know thyself', as Socrates entreated.


Dr Peter Oliver

Dr Peter Oliver is Senior Lecturer at the International WaterCentre, Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland, and Healthy Waterways Champion 2012.

Dr Oliver has learnt from his years as teacher, community volunteer, extension officer, researcher, activist, author and musician that effective learning and positive change occur when people work together in partnership – sharing and linking risk, opportunity, reward and resources – and that these human goals may not be quite so unachievable after all.

When it comes to wicked problems, Dr Oliver says, it is time to act.


Watch the lecture

Prof Paul Lant introduces Dr Peter Oliver's Retirement Lecture

Dr Bill Dennison introduction to Dr Peter Oliver's Retirement Lecture

Dr Peter Oliver Retirement Lecture Part 1

Dr Peter Oliver Retirement Lecture Part 2


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