Big Problems


Course Objective

After this class you will…
1. Know and be able to evaluate social scientific theories (and
neighboring fields) on wicked problems in the domain of social sciences.
2. Recognize wicked problems in the domain of social sciences and are
able to describe the mechanisms that might create and maintain those
wicked problems.
3. Be able to reflect critically on research on wicked problems
conducted in the ISR and to think through strengths and weaknesses.
4. Be able to present the scientific and societal relevance of
literature on wicked problems in a clear manner such that other students
can understand their rationale.
5. Have attained the skills to describe a research puzzle that is
embedded in and emanate from relevant theories, particularly in the
domain of wicked societal problems, so that they are an appropriate
starting point for a research proposal.
6. Have the skills to conduct a literature search: to use feasible and
relevant search terms for the domain, evaluate the quality of research
questions and theories, and make proper references.
7. Students are able to value the different disciplinary and cultural
input of their group members in relation to the literature and the
research puzzles and underlying assump-tions and to benefit from this to
enrich the research puzzle or add original perspectives.

Course Content

Due to globalization, individualization and the rapid development of
communication and infor-mation technologies, present day society faces
many wicked problems: problems that are multi-layered, hard to define
and as such challenge the capacity to generate viable and resilient
solu-tions. To define and tame a wicked problem, actors involved – often
with divergent interests – have to agree on the definition of the
problem, and its goals and actions for taming them. This makes wicked
problems not only complex but also political. In this course, students
learn to recognize and analyze today’s wicked problems from a
multidisciplinary and multilevel (micro, meso, macro) angle. In the
course, lecturers discuss issues such as inequality, climate change,
polarization and immigration, and the growing costs of healthcare.
Students learn to recognize and analyze the complexity of societal
problems in a globalizing world with multiple layers of governance, in
increasingly heterogeneous societies.
In this course, students read about and discuss literature pertaining to
wicked problems and learn how to recognize and analyze them. The course
makes clear that Big Problems are not neatly organized by nation state
borders, but have a global structure. National governments have limited
power to solve, or tame, them and the political courage to do so is
often lacking. Still, citizens are concerned about these problems, and
they are all interconnected. Climate change and pale economic outlook –
especially for the well educated in failed states – cause immigration
and people worldwide protest their governments to take action.
Inequality also manifests itself in the consequences of climate change.
Communication technology makes ine-quality visible and seems to push
polarization. In short, Big Problems are all interconnected, and to
understand this complexity we need a multilayered multidisciplinary

Big Problems is the first substantive course of the Research Master
Societal Resilience. Stu-dents learn to recognize and analyze societal
problems. The course is followed by Foundations of Societal Resilience
where they learn about the concept of societal resilience in a critical
man-ner, both from a theoretical and normative perspective as well as
from a policy perspective. This substantive line, is combined with a
methodological line. The first methodological course, ‘Qualitative or
Quanti-tative Data Analysis’ ensures that the skills of students in
classical re-search methods (both qualitative and quantitative) meet the
required standard. After this course has been completed, the ‘Big data,
Small data’ course focuses on social analytics. We teach our students
about the nature, quality and social significance of small and big data.
They acquire the basic skills needed to gather, organize, question and
analyze big data and learn how to handle small data, for instance
individual stories and interactions that can help to put big data in
context and yield valuable information about how resilience occurs
within a certain social context, and how at times it can be undermined.
In this way, we provide our students in the first four months of our
program with a common foundation, in both substantive and methodological
terms, for the remainder of the program. In P1 and P2 students also
prepare to choose the so-cietal problem themes (i.e. Care and Welfare,
Dynamics of Interconnectedness, Diversity and Inclusion, and
Governmental Reform) and the methodological specialization for the
remainder of the program.

Teaching Methods

In the course, different teaching formats are used, interactive meetings
and working groups:
• Interactive meetings last approximately 3.5 hours with a 30-minute
break. In the meet-ings, we discuss theories from public administration,
sociology, communication sci-ence, and organisation science regarding
wicked problems in the realm of social scienc-es on individual, group
and organizational level; we apply theories on wicked problems to actual
and timely examples of societal problems; discuss reseach questions and
re-search methods of specific empirical readings on the topics.
• The duration of working groups is 3.5 hour. In the tutorials, small
groups of students discuss selected readings regarding concepts,
theories and methodologies on wicked societal problems, search for
examples of the concepts which are studied and published; synthesize
insights from the literature. The working groups follow up on the
theories discussed in the lectures.

Method of Assessment

Final paper (90%) and peer review (10%)


Selected readings, see course manual

Target Audience

Students Research Master Societal Resilience

Recommended background knowledge

• This course is the first course of the Research Master Societal
Resilience, this implies that the required level of entrance equals the
entrance requirements of the Research Mas-ter.
• Teaching level: 400

General Information

Course Code S_BP
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator dr. D.B.D. Bannink
Examiner prof. dr. J. van Stekelenburg
Teaching Staff dr. D.B.D. Bannink
prof. dr. J. van Stekelenburg
dr. D.B.D. Bannink

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Reading