Wicked Problems, Problem Structuring Methods, and Soft O.R.
The O.R. community has developed many tools over the years to deal what are commonly called "wicked problems". A useful first step was to recognize that these problems existed and that the O.R. community at the time had few good tools to address them.
C. West Churchman brought Horst Rittel's concept of 'wicked problems' to the attention of the O.R. community in 1967. Such problems are 'social problems which are ill formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision-makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing' (see Churchman's "Wicked problems" in Management Science, 1967, pp. 141–142).
In many ways the problems that will be encountered in steps 2 and 4 of the study process will constitute 'wicked problems', by this characterization where confusion and conflicting values may dominate. Indeed wicked probems may be encountered throughout the study process, and not in these steps alone.
Of the tools that developed over the years, many came from the practice of O.R. in Britain. Indeed the US community has been criticized for largely ignoring the issue entirely.
However, recently attention has been brought to many tools that can be used when O.R. analysts encounter 'wicked probems'. A search for appropriate tools may take the reader to references largely outside the usual domain of the US O.R. community, see the sidebar on references.