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Reflective Essays

Vol. 23 No. 3: Special Issue: A Global Perspective on Service-Learning and Community Engagement in Higher Education

Engaging With Complexity: Making Sense of “Wicked Problems” in Rural South Africa

December 19, 2019


This article provides insights into the utility of applying theories associated with the complexity sciences to engaged research. The article reflects on a 4-year health-related engagement between the University of Limpopo and the Waterberg Welfare Society in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. The introduction presents the focus of the partnership and the outputs to date. The sections that follow introduce (1) background information about the partnership, (2) the notion of “wicked problems” and resilience, (3) theory relating to anthropogenic complexity that influenced the project, and (4) a description of the taming wicked problems framework, which was developed to facilitate the intervention. The discussion reflects on learning from the project in the context of engaged research, wicked problems, and resilience. It is suggested that building resilience to wicked problems represents a useful addition to engaged scholarship’s armamentarium of toolkits from both conceptual and practical perspectives.