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Research Data Management as a “wicked problem”

Chris Awre (University of Hull, Hull, UK)
Jim Baxter (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Brian Clifford (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Janette Colclough (University of York, York, UK)
Andrew Cox (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Nick Dods (Liverpool University, Liverpool, UK)
Paul Drummond (University of Durham, Durham, UK)
Yvonne Fox (Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)
Martin Gill (Huddersfield University, Huddersfield, UK)
Kerry Gregory (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Anita Gurney (Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)
Juliet Harland (Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)
Masud Khokhar (Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)
Dawn Lowe (University of Hull, Hull, UK)
Ronan O'Beirne (Bradford College, Bradford, UK)
Rachel Proudfoot (University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Hardy Schwamm (Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK)
Andrew Smith (University of York, York, UK)
Eddy Verbaan (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Liz Waller (University of York, York, UK)
Laurian Williamson (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, , UK)
Martin Wolf (Liverpool University, Liverpool, UK)
Matthew Zawadzki (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 6 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore the usefulness of the concept to thinking about Research Data Management (RDM). The concept of “wicked problems” seeks to differentiate very complex, intractable challenges from tamer issues where approaches to problem solving are well-understood.


The paper is based on and co-authored by a collaboration of practitioners from libraries, information technology and research administration, with facilitators from the Sheffield Information School. Participants worked together in two-day-long workshops to understand the wicked problem concept and advice on leadership in wicked problem contexts.


Participants concurred that RDM had many features of a wicked problem and most of Grint’s advice on leadership for wicked problems also resonated. Some elements of the issue were simple; participants were optimistic about improving the situation over time. Participants were resistant to the more negative or fatalistic connotations of the phrase “wicked problem”. Viewing RDM as a wicked problem is an interesting way of looking at it as a challenge for support professionals.

Practical implications

The notion of a wicked problem is a generative concept that can be usefully added to professional vocabulary.


The paper captures an in-depth response from practitioners to the notion of wicked problems as a lens for examining RDM.



The project was funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.


Awre, C., Baxter, J., Clifford, B., Colclough, J., Cox, A., Dods, N., Drummond, P., Fox, Y., Gill, M., Gregory, K., Gurney, A., Harland, J., Khokhar, M., Lowe, D., O'Beirne, R., Proudfoot, R., Schwamm, H., Smith, A., Verbaan, E., Waller, L., Williamson, L., Wolf, M. and Zawadzki, M. (2015), "Research Data Management as a “wicked problem”", Library Review, Vol. 64 No. 4/5, pp. 356-371.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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