Russell L. Ackoff wrote about complex problems as messes: "Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems…. I choose to call such a system a mess."
Extending Ackoff, Robert Horn says that "a Social Mess is a set of interrelated problems and other messes. Complexity—systems of systems—is among the factors that makes Social Messes so resistant to analysis and, more importantly, to resolution."
According to Horn, the defining characteristics of a social mess are:
No unique “correct” view of the problem;
Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
Most problems are connected to other problems;
Data are often uncertain or missing;
Multiple value conflicts;
Ideological and cultural constraints;
Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
Numerous possible intervention points;
Consequences difficult to imagine;
Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
Great resistance to change; and,
Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.