Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Aging, a wicked problem? - issue#1

Science and research call for a multi-disciplinary approach to ageing


Efficacy of scientific research will depend to a large extent on its capacity to dialogue with the other components of the system and to accomplish the fertile transfer of its knwoledge

by prof. A. Claudio Bosio  (Dean of the Faculty of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore)
Giuseppe Riva, Guendalina Graffigna (
Department of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore).

Active Aging and Healthy Living (henceforth AA&HL) deals with a challenging issue which is progressively gaining more and more importance challenging on the social and scientific levels for all the Western countries, and especially for Europe.
New issues arise and must be addressed: the increase in the duration of life prompts closer attention to the quality of life; health expands its horizons to encompass the prevention of risk and the enhancement of well-being; medical action (centered on disease) seeks new synergies with social action (centered on changes to unhealthy lifestyles and dietary habits, the expansion of networks and social communication to promote health, the transfer of knowledge/skills/empowerment to the population); policy-makers must consider –  besides their traditional interlocutors – an array of stakeholders featuring increasing complexity (in politics, industry, the third sector, and public opinion); health interventions are required to be not only effective but also sustainable in economic, human and social terms.
Against this background – which requires urgent responses – commitment to AA&HL is a significant and promising choice. The project is (apparently!) simple in its essential aims: to improve the duration and quality of life through the direct engagement of people as co-authors of their own health and through a virtuous interweaving among the resources made available by medicine and society.
What today emerges as the new challenge for science is the reconfiguration of the context in which research should be conducted.  In other words, the quest for an active and healthy ageing, to which the research developed by Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore is strongly committed in these days, can be considered a “wicked problem”.

What is a wicked “wicked problem”?  It is a social and cultural problem, which is difficult to solve because of incomplete, changing, and contradictory requirements. This kind of problems is tough to manage because of their social complexity. European universities ought to have a primary role in the solution of this kind of problems, with the aim of becoming more and more crucial players in supporting European competitiveness, economic growth, and social cohesion.
Wicked problems require the knowledge of the social and cultural context in which they occur. Only understanding what people do and why they do it can solve them.
Secondly, they require a multidisciplinary approach. They can have different solutions, so it is critical to capture the full range of possibilities and interpretations. 
Overall, it is evident that the efficacy of scientific research will depend to a large extent on its capacity to dialogue with the other components of the system and to accomplish the fertile transfer of its knowledge. In other words, solutions can only come from the encounter between science e policy making, between the production of scientific knowledge and its application in the social domain.
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore represents the most suited institution to accept and manage such challenge because its research is aimed at understanding how systems behave, interact with their environment, and influence each other.
In this view, detailed in the open access book “Active Ageing and Healthy Living: A Human Centered Approach in Research and Innovation as Source of Quality of Life”, the key in addressing [the issue of] active ageing is a “knowledge mobilization” approach, where scientific certainty is balanced by the perspectives of community stakeholders, including elderly people themselves.