Uncovering wicked problem’s system structure: seeing the forest for the trees

Ann Marie Kennedy, Sommer Kapitan, Neha Bajaj, Angelina Bakonyi, Sean Sands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This paper aims to use systems thinking, systems theory and Camillus’ framework for responding to wicked problems to provide social marketers with a theoretically based framework for approaching strategy formation for wicked problems. The paper treats fast fashion as an illustrative case and takes a step back from implementation to provide a framework for analysing and gaining understanding of wicked problem system structure for social marketers to then plan more effective interventions. The proposed approach is intended as a theory-based tool for social marketing practitioners to uncover system structure and analyse the wicked problems they face. Design/methodology/approach: Following Layton, this work provides theoretically based guidelines for analysing the black box of how to develop and refine strategy as first proposed in Camillus’ (2008) framework for responding to wicked issues. Findings: The prescription thus developed for approaching wicked problems’ system structure revolves around identifying the individuals, groups or entities that make up the system involved in the wicked problem, and then determining which social mechanisms most clearly drive each entity and which outcomes motivate these social mechanisms, before determining which role the entities play as either incumbent, challenger or governance and which social narratives drive each role’s participation in the wicked problem. Originality/value: This paper shows that using systems thinking can help social marketers to gain big picture thinking and develop strategy for responding to complex issues, while considering the consequences of interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-73
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Marketing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Fast fashion
  • Garment industry
  • Social marketing
  • Systems theory
  • Systems thinking
  • Wicked problems

Cite this