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This is the first in a series of blogs from Scottish Fellows Brian Howieson and Juliette Summers, summarising their research on problems related to youth exclusion in Scotland.

This is the first in a series of blogs that I write with my colleague Juliette Summers.  These blogs will hopefully summarise a research project that Juliette and I are undertaking over the next 12 months.

In general, we both have an interest in understanding further the many issues and problems related to youth exclusion in Scotland.  As Fellows of the RSA, we have managed to secure grant funding from the RSA (Scotland) Venture Fund to study this area in more depth.

In detail, we hope to examine how public and third sector organisations ‘frame’ problems in relation to youth exclusion.  In doing so, we will work with the City of Glasgow Council and two community organisations involved in youth exclusion initiatives to investigate how they construct ― and, therefore, frame ― the problem of youth exclusion as a tame or wicked problem.

Some Definitions

In his paper, Problems, Problems, Problems: The Social Construction of ‘Leadership’, Keith Grint offers that:

― A Tame Problem may be complicated but is resolvable through uni-linear acts because there is a point where the problem is resolved and it is likely to have occurred before.  In other words, there is only a limited degree of uncertainty and, thus, it is associated with Management. The manager’s role, therefore, is to provide the appropriate processes to solve the problem.

― A Wicked Problem is complex, rather than just complicated, it is often intractable and there is no uni-linear solution.  Moreover, there is no ‘stopping’ point, it is novel, any apparent ‘solution’ often generates other ‘problems’, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but there are better or worse alternatives. In other words, there is a huge degree of uncertainty involved and thus it is associated with Leadership.


The Research Problem

In Scotland today ― and in setting targets for community solutions to youth (and social) exclusion ― we consider that the Scottish Government may frame such activities as measurable, i.e. youth (and social) exclusion as a problem that can be legislatively managed.  But, and of note, as longitudinal evidence demonstrates (i.e. The Sutton Trust, 2012), youth (and social) exclusion is an intractable problem that has not been successfully managed into non-existence by established legislative approaches. Given the increasing amounts of government policy designed to facilitate poverty reduction and social mobility, this is a concerning lack of change.

Such intractable problems, which are complex and messy, are increasingly recognised as needing novel and innovative solutions. One avenue for enquiry ― we suggest ― is to consider how both policy makers and community organisations frame the nature of the problems that compose youth (and social) exclusion and to consider whether a lack of success in improving social mobility can be partially explained by a mismatch or even a conflict between framings.  This, we think, could be very important.

In our research, the way in which the City of Glasgow Council and two community organisations frame the problem will then be contrasted with the approach adopted by the Scottish Government (the legislator) and of other funders.

We do wonder that where the understanding of the problem differs (if at all) between legislator/funder/local authority and the community organisations, this may lead to mismatched expectations and issues in the operationalisation of effective actions.

From an academic perspective, in investigating this possible mismatch ― and its unintended consequences ― the project will deepen academic understanding of the social construction of wicked problems through the development of Framing Theory.


Going Forward

Our research has three phases:

  • Phase One:  Desk-based research including our literature review (September 2016 – January 2017)

  • Phase Two:  Fieldwork (January 2017 – April 2017).

  • Phase Three:  Analysis and understanding of the research results (May – July 2017).


In terms of Blogs, we hope to offer an update at the end of each Phase whereby interested readers can follow our progress as we work through this research project.

Looking ahead, we hope to produce several outputs:

  • An academic paper that summarises this research project that will be presented at an academic conference and published in a relevant journal

  • A Working Paper for RSA (Scotland) that can be forwarded to the Scottish Government written in plain English

  • An RSA (Scotland) Event to disseminate our findings to RSA Fellows and other interested parties

  • A Case Study of this project for RSA Fellows considering undertaking RSA-funded project work such as this.


We are very interested in this area ― we hope that the money made available to us via the RSA (Scotland) Venture Fund will allow us to apply rigour and relevance in this area that will attract further funding and research opportunities for all RSA (Scotland) Fellows and beyond.

We also hope to input this work into other RSA projects such as the Inclusive Growth Commission and the Citizens’ Economic Council.

Finally, we are very keen to engage with all RSA Fellows who have an interest in this very important area. Please feel free to contact Juliette or me if you are interested in this area.

Brian Howieson FRSA – The University of Dundee

Juliette Summers FRSA – The University of St Andrews



Grint, K. (2005). Problems, problems, problems:  The social construction of leadership. Human

             Relations 58(11): 1467-1494

The Sutton Trust/Carnegie Corporation of New York (2012). Social Mobility Summit Report.


Joint authors: Juliette Summers and William Howieson


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