The “Reflect!” approach to wicked problems

  1. List all the individuals and groups who are either affected by the problem and possible decisions or have an interest in influencing its solution. These are called “stakeholders.” Try to identify as many stakeholders as possible. Everybody concerned should be taken into account.
  2. What are the interests, needs, world views, and values of all these stakeholders? Based on your answer to these questions, formulate for each of them one (or more) of their positions in form of a statement that says very specifically what should be done from their respective point of view. Statements that specify what “should” be done are called “normative statements.”
  3. Create for each stakeholder position an argument map in AGORA-net that justifies this position. The goal is to understand this position as plausible and legitimate. Investigate the case from each stakeholder’s perspective (take especially care of those positions that you do not personally share), search for material that allows you to understand each stakeholder’s position, and quote this material in your maps.
    Design the reasons in your argument map so that they reflect input from the following considerations:
  • What is the current status of scientific knowledge available for this case?
  • What are the ethical principles and values on which your normative statements are based? (In argument maps, principles and values can either be included as reasons or as justification for an argument’s enabler.)
  • Are there any historical precedents to the case? Are there historical analogies to similar or related problems, including past and current policy resolutions? What was their rationale?
  • What might happen if your stakeholder’s suggestion of what should be done becomes realized? What are possible consequences and impacts?

If you base your arguments on published material use the “Instructions for reconstructing arguments from texts” that you can find at

4. Whenever a reflection on the points in the previous step changes your understanding of the stakeholder’s perspective on the case or suggests another position that you find more convincing, change the main conclusion of your argument (which presents what should be done according to the stakeholder in question) and revise your argument accordingly. If additional stakeholders come to your mind at any point in the process, add them to your list in (1.), formulate their position (2.), and develop another argument map to justify their position (3.)

5. Based on a reflection on all the stakeholder positions you discussed, develop a position on what should be done that you think is more convincing than any of the stakeholder positions individually. Consider the question whether there are options that you did not see so far and which would allow you to deal with the problem in a way that takes a broader variety of stakeholder positions into account. This position is called a "synthesis position."

6. Develop an argument map to justify this synthesis position. Refer to those ethical principles and values that you think are more broadly shared.

7. Add objections to specific points of this justification. What might those stakeholders object whose positions are not covered by the synthesis position?

8. Try to defeat these objections by counter-arguments.


The formulation of the considerations in Point 3 is based on Roberta Berry's "navigational approach":

Berry, R. M. (2007). The Ethics of Genetic Engineering: Routledge.
Berry, R. M., Borenstein, J., & Butera, R. (2013). Contentious Problems in Bioscience and Biotechnology: A Pilot Study of an Approach to Ethics Education. Science and Engineering Ethics, 653-668. doi: 10.1007/s11948-012-9359-6

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