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Abstract

The term “wicked problems” is not well recognized in the field of applied economics. Normally used to describe situations or scenarios that are difficult to solve using standard modeling methods, these problems are often highly complex and span multiple disciplines. As a result, traditional methods for teaching economists how to problemsolve may not suffice. In this paper, we assess whether or not the case study method is an possible strategy to better equip students to deal with, account for, and solve wicked policy problems in applied economics. We focus on a single, but highly timely and relevant wicked-type policy problem: “Whether or not to change the designation and/or size of the Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah.” The Bears Ears issue has all the hallmarks of a wicked-type problem. There are many sides to the issue and thus many diverse key stakeholders involved. To address this issue we ask students in an advanced applied economics course to role-play as members of a private a consulting firm hired to and to determine the “socially optimal” size of the Bears Ears National Monument, using economics criteria discussed throughout the semester. Based on their results, students are asked to offer policy recommendations and explain in detail the limitations of their results. We assess student learning outcomes using a pre- and post-survey, a take-home assignment, and an in-class group presentation. To discourage the free-rider problem, we assess individual contributions by having students complete individual evaluations.

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