From humble inquiry to humble intelligence: Confronting wicked problems and augmenting public relations

Paul Willis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


This study seeks to upgrade the concept of humble inquiry into humble intelligence (HI) to address a particular set of seemingly intractable challenges known as wicked problems. It locates the concept of wicked problems in the academic literature to underpin its argument that, because of their ubiquity within organizations and across communities, wicked problems have implications for the practice of PR. It suggests that many of PR’s functional challenges within organizations can be characterised as “wicked,” while the discipline’s strategic interests suggest PR has a wider role to play in helping society address other “wicked” dilemmas. Despite these issues and opportunities the article identifies how PR has yet to recognize, let alone engage systematically with the challenges conceptualized as wicked problems. To confront them, the article sets out Schein’s notion of humble inquiry and upgrades it to humble intelligence, loosely defined as a cluster of multiple and interacting capabilities that, in concert, forge a form of collective intelligence amongst a wide range of stakeholders. In this coalition, HI can harness the dispersed knowledge that exists in communities and organizations to go beyond traditional, hierarchical, and, often, isolated forms of expertise. This reorientation engages wicked problems productively by deploying multiple perspectives, extending networks, and building the social capital required for collaboration. The article concludes that as well as gaining traction on seemingly intractable challenges, HI both complements and adds value to dialogic theories of PR.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-313
Number of pages8
JournalPublic Relations Review
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


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