“The science and art of navigation is holistic. The navigator must process an endless flow of data, intuitions and insights derived from observation and the dynamic rhythms and interactions of wind, waves, clouds, stars, sun, moon, the flight of birds, a bed of kelp, the glow of phosphorescence on a shallow reef – in short, the constantly changing world of weather and the sea.”
–Wade Davis1 1. Davis, W., 2009. The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. CBC Massey lectures series. House of Anansi Press. 262 pp. ISBN 0887848427.
Centuries ago, Polynesian explorers and traders traversed the Pacific Ocean, settling islands across thousands of kilometres of open water. The boat crews included a navigator, or a wayfinder.
Following stars, interpreting the patterns of ocean swells and waves, and carefully observing the wind, clouds, weather, and wildlife, the wayfinder kept track of where they were by never losing the connection with where they came from. Without a precise route, but with a deep understanding of the dynamics of the sea, the Polynesian seafarers constantly adjusted to changing conditions to maintain progress towards the islands for which they had set out.
Today, managers and stewards of complex, intertwined social and ecological systems around the world are struggling to find pathways towards sustainable and just development. New approaches to navigate all the options available to them are needed. These approaches must be able to deal with uncertainty and complexity, with surprise rather than predictability, and with constant change instead of stability.
Inspired by the Polynesian seafarers’ approach to navigation, we are developing a new resilience assessment tool, with the working name Wayfinder. Our team is a collaboration between researchers at the GRAID programme at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Resilience Alliance, and the Australian Resilience Centre. We hope that Wayfinder will help users to understand the system in which they are working and where it came from, and to explore different ways to sustainable and fair development.
Translating resilience thinking into practice
A resilience assessment approach does pretty much what it says on the label: it guides users to assess the resilience of a system. It’s a well-established methodology to understand the complex interactions between humans and ecosystems and to identify strategies to enhance resilience. By integrating key concepts from resilience thinking, resilience-assessment approaches guide users to an alternative way of thinking about and governing closely intertwined social and ecological systems.
Over the past decade, many approaches to resilience assessments have emerged, each tailored to different purposes and contexts.2 2. Quinlan, A. E., Berbés-Blázquez, M., Haider, L. J., Peterson, G. D., 2016. "Measuring and assessing resilience: broadening understanding through multiple disciplinary perspectives," Journal of Applied Ecology 53:677–687. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12550 The Resilience Alliance’s Workbook for Practitioners, first published in 2007, was among the first comprehensive resilience-assessment approaches and remains a foundational resource.
The field of resilience thinking and practice is rapidly evolving, however, and since the release of the second edition of the workbook in 2010, a wealth of knowledge and experience has emerged. Our ambition with Wayfinder is to build on the strong foundation provided by the workbook and to integrate cutting-edge science and experience from practice, in order to create a new generation of resilience assessments.
A collaborative process in five steps
We are designing Wayfinder to be an iterative process that follows five steps, which users might revisit along the way:
Step 1. Preparing for the assessment, where organisers design the process and tune it to the local context, agree on principles for participation, develop an initial theory of change, and set up a learning framework.
Step 2. System definition, which generally engages a wider group of participants, and includes discussions on aspirations, critical issues or problems, and the historical context. It also involves setting the boundaries of the system in focus, and identifying its critical components and drivers of change.
Step 3. System dynamics, where three critical aspects of resilience are explored over time: ecosystem services (the benefits that humans derive from ecosystems) and human wellbeing; option space (the range of future options still available, analysed through a set of “resilience principles”); and system dynamics (the more fundamental structures and interactions that produce these aspects).
Step 4. Strategies for change, where participants identify strategies for adaptation or transformation, filter and prioritise these, revise the theory of change, and develop an adaptive action plan.
Step 5. Learning your way forward, where actual change happens. Here, participants are encouraged to build a learning-by-doing culture, and an approach to implementation that allows for testing and refining the understanding and action plan identified through the assessment.
Throughout these steps, users move between in-depth technical analysis, evaluation of the quality of the process, and sense-making and deep reflection. All of these stages contribute to the emergent process of navigating change, where the knowledge and insights gained throughout the process are translated into strategies for change.