Dealing With a Wicked Problem? A Dark Tale of Carnivore Management in Sweden 2007-2011

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18DEQDIzC2iSII/input 595668AASXXX10.1177/0095399715595668Administration & SocietyDuit and Löf
Administration & Society
2018, Vol. 50(8) 1072 –1096
Dealing With a Wicked
© The Author(s) 2015
Article reuse guidelines:
Problem? A Dark Tale of
DOI: 10.1177/0095399715595668
Carnivore Management
in Sweden 2007-2011
Andreas Duit1 and Annette Löf2
In this article, we investigate whether increased participation offers a way of
addressing wicked policy problems. We utilize a natural policy experiment in
the form of a 2010 reform of Swedish wildlife management policy aiming to
solve longstanding conflicts over predators through increased stakeholder
participation in regional Wildlife Management Boards. Using a panel study
design containing quantitative and qualitative data, we estimate pre- and
post-reform levels of three wickedness-reducing mechanisms: legitimacy,
deliberation, and conflict intensity. Despite a substantial increase in
participation, we find no evidence of reduced wickedness after the reform.
wicked problems, participation, natural resource management
That many of today’s most urgent policy problems cannot be solved through
managerial and optimization strategies is becoming increasingly evident:
Many problems simply have no simple solutions. One way of understanding
these policy and management dilemmas is through a wicked problem
framework. Wicked problems as a concept first originated in a now famous
1Stockholm University, Sweden
2Umeå University, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Andreas Duit, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden.

Duit and Löf
article by Rittel and Webber from 1973. They sought to advance a critique of
the, at that time, dominating “technocratic” paradigm within social policy and
planning which relied heavily on the “professionalism” of expert managers,
objective “hard” data, and the use of rationalistic approaches in decision-
making and policy implementation (Rittel & Webber, 1973; see also
Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1994; Ludwig, 2001). In essence, Rittel and Webber
argued that unlike “tame” problems (often found in natural science or engi-
neering) to which there are pre-defined and optimal solutions, social problems
are rooted in radically different social, political, and cultural dynamics, which
in turn makes linear problem-solving methods unsuitable or even dangerous.
Although the notion of wicked problems has attracted a fair amount of
criticism since its conception, the concept has nonetheless continued to play
a valuable role in emphasizing the non-rationalistic and non-optimizing
nature of public policy making (Balint, Stewart, Desai, & Walters, 2011;
Head & Alford, 2013; Termeer, Dewulf, Breeman, & Stiller, 2013).
Furthermore, Rittel and Webber also made an important contribution by
pointing out that some policy problems might not be solvable in the sense that
there is a “correct” policy intervention or treatment that will make the prob-
lem go away. A certain set of policy problems are simply beyond reach for
policy making, and in such circumstances, the best option is often some sort
of containment strategy to keep the problem from escalating further or from
spreading to other policy areas. Some more recent scholarly work within the
wicked problem framework has focused on identifying ways of dealing with
rather than solving wicked problems (Head & Alford, 2013; Levin, Cashore,
Bernstein, & Auld, 2012; van Bueren, Klijn, & Koppenjan, 2003; Weber &
Khademian, 2008). One of the most common prescriptions for how to handle
wickedness is stakeholder participation. For example, Fischer (1993) argues
that wicked problems only respond to “increased doses of participation”;
Durant et al. (2006) state that participation is a prerequisite for the “collective
puzzlement of society” needed to address wicked problems; Weber and
Khademian emphasize that knowledge transfer and learning are vital for
dealing with wicked problems and can only be achieved through participa-
tory schemes; van Bueren et al. (2003, p. 194) suggest that only enhanced and
intensified interactions between stakeholders can reduce the uncertainties
involved in wicked problems; and Jentoft and Chuenpagdee (2009) argue that
the struggles over problem definition in wicked problems necessitate collab-
orative and participatory interventions.
Aim of the Article
The aim of this article is to explore the role of stakeholder participation in
dealing with wicked policy problems. Specifically, we analyze the effects of

Administration & Society 50(8)
a recent (2010) natural experiment in the form of an institutional reform of a
“wicked” policy area: large carnivore management (LCM) in Sweden. The
nation-wide reform aimed at addressing longstanding and intensive conflicts
around a growing population of large carnivores (in particular, wolves) by
creating a set of regional administrative bodies for decentralized decision
making and increased stakeholder participation in carnivore management.
Structure of the Article
We begin by providing a brief overview of the LCM policy area as well as a
short historical background. We then proceeded to a review of the literature
on wicked problems from which we derive one main policy prescription—
stakeholder participation—along with three overlapping mechanisms through
which this policy prescription is assumed to have its effects on wicked prob-
lems: legitimacy (participation enhances both input and output legitimacy
trough co-creation of policy measures), deliberation (participation enables a
more enlightened exchange between opposing interests and the formulation
of a common problem definition), and conflict intensity (participation can
limit, contain, and prevent social conflicts through trust building, reduced
uncertainty, and repeated interaction between opposing interests).
Changes in these three mechanisms before and after a comprehensive
reform in 2010 are assessed qualitatively and quantitatively in a longitudinal
panel study of stakeholder representatives involved in local-level carnivore
policy making. We find that the reform, despite being well-aligned with theo-
retical recommendations on increased stakeholder participation, has weak-
ened rather than strengthened the wickedness-reducing mechanisms. In the
final section, this result is then related to the theoretical discussion on wicked
problems, at which point we argue that our findings suggest that participatory
policy interventions might themselves be exhibiting wicked properties.
Carnivore Management Policy in Sweden:
An Overview
The transition from being regarded as pests to species worthy of conservation—
ultimately allowing for the European carnivore comeback (Enserink & Vogel,
2006)—occurred early but slowly in Sweden. For a long time, researchers
considered the Swedish wolf population “functionally extinct” as less than 10
wolves were known to exist, and no rejuvenations were recorded (Wabakken,
Sand, Liberg, & Bjärvall, 2001). Since the early 1990s, the population has
however exhibited a steady increase. Along with carnivore re-colonization,
widespread and often heated conflicts between stakeholders (e.g., conserva-
tionists, small-hold farmers, and hunters) have followed as well as a growing

Duit and Löf
dissatisfaction with governmental policy interventions (Cinque, 2008; Ericsson
& Heberlein, 2003; Swedish Government Official Reports 2007:89).
The first ever coherent bill on LCM was passed by the Swedish parliament
in the spring of 2001. Elements of regionalization were pronounced from the
start and largely based on the notion of subsidiarity, that decisions should be
made as close as possible to those affected (Government Bill 2000/01:57).
Alongside the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the regional
County Administrative Boards (CABs) became key actors in implementing
LCM policy. Among other tasks, CABs in counties with permanent carnivore
populations were responsible for convening so-called Large Carnivore
Committees (LCCs). The bill stated, in loose terms, a number of organized
interests to be represented in the advisory LCCs (such as the CAB itself,
municipalities, police authority, and stakeholders such as land owners, rein-
deer herding districts, nature conservancy, and hunter’s organizations). It is
therefore not surprising that previous studies demonstrate large regional
differences in how the LCCs were organized and implemented (Duit, Galaz,
& Löf, 2009; Sandström, Pellikka, Ratamäki, & Sande, 2009), and how pub-
lic managers perceived the role and potential of the LCCs (Cinque, 2008).
This first set of policy responses did not, however, solve the problems in the
LCM policy area, and a new approach was sought. As explained in the fol-
lowing Government Bill, “[t]he increase in large carnivores in combination
with a lack of citizen influence in earlier carnivore policy have created a lack
of trust for policy and management” (Government Bill 2008/09:210, p. 8,
translated from Swedish). Consequently, the most recent reform leading up to
a “new LCM-policy,” effective as of 2010, aimed explicitly at increasing the
levels of decentralized and participatory decision making to increase legiti-
macy (EPA, 2011; see also Lundmark, Matti, & Sandström, 2014).
The core component of the reform consisted in a transferal of decision-
making competencies from the...

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