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Utilizing flux and chaos: A case study of wicked problems in environmental management

Umar Ghuman (Department of Politics and Public Administration, California State University Stanislaus)
Wendy Olmstead (Commercial Operations Manager, Auxiliary & Business Services, California State University Stanislaus)

International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior

ISSN: 1093-4537

Article publication date: 1 March 2015



Public agency managers dealing with environmental issues often encounter “wicked problems”; poorly defined, with conflicting interpretations of data, and conflict among values and missions (Rittel & Webber, 1973). This case study that provides insight into a “wicked problem” resulting from a complex series of interactions between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation during the Kesterson incident (a biological disaster during the 1980s). Morganʼs (2006) metaphors are utilized to examine the circumstances of the incident and demonstrate the hierarchical structures and opposing cultures that exacerbated the issues. Dealing with a wicked problem requires embracing conflict to potentiate change. We assert that public organizations dealing with complex issues need to embrace chaos and flux and self-organize in the same manner as biological systems, thereby evolving into dynamic organizations well-equipped to deal with the complexities of their environments.


Ghuman, U. and Olmstead, W. (2015), "Utilizing flux and chaos: A case study of wicked problems in environmental management", International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 379-404.



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