9: Broad aspirations

To give the Wayfinder process a clear direction it is useful to start from people’s aspirations. Simply put, what kind of future would people like? This work card suggests important issues to think about when exploring the aspirations of stakeholders in the system, such as how they link to sustainability issues at broader scales, beyond the focal system.

Use a workshop process to elicit stakeholders aspirations for the system. If there are contested aspirations, consider holding smaller separate meetings and workshops with individual stakeholder groups before bringing people together in a larger workshop. Consider power and equity issues in the design of the process.

Suggested approach: Workshop(s) with stakeholder groups, reflecting a wide range of interests in / perspectives on the system

Time required: 2 hrs

Facilitation skill level: High

Resources: workshop materials, whiteboards, poster paper, markers, sticky notes

Beginning with aspirations rather than problems

The first step of creating a shared understanding of system identity involves documenting people’s aspirations for the system and making visible the underlying values that are held by different stakeholder groups. Beginning the process with a discussion around shared values and aspirations, rather than the problems they face, highlights stakeholders’ own agency in navigating the system toward a sustainable, safe and just future. It also prevents problem paralysis, where people get stuck focused on trying to find solutions before they fully understand the systemic nature of the problem.

Stakeholder workshop about future aspirations in a Wayfinder pilot in Ranérou, Senegal. To give the Wayfinder process a clear direction it is useful to start from people’s aspirations – collectively reflecting on what kind of future people want. Photo: D. Goffner.

At first it is practical to frame the aspirations in a fairly general way, so that people can agree on them. At the same time, they should be specific enough to give the process direction. Often in highly unequal contexts, individuals or groups of people may have different and potentially opposing aspirations, which may lead to tensions. At this step in the Wayfinder process it is, however, important to try to find common ground and build commitment to the process. There are various tools available for managing conflicting interests and perspectives, for instance by using exercises that increase the understanding of different perspectives, opinions, and roles of among different groups of people, and actors, in the system.

Considering, stewardhip, reciprocity and broader sustainability goals

A key issue to consider when exploring people’s aspirations is how well they align with sustainability issues at large. Can the aspirations be realized without having a negative impact on people and nature at the focal scale and beyond, now and in the future? To what extent do they support the productive capacity of the biosphere, and build on a sense of stewardship for the environment and reciprocity between people?

These issues are not straight forward and you may need to undertake a number of rounds of discussions with different stakeholder groups to make sure aspirations represent a sustainable, safe and just future for all. Working through this will significantly improve the outcome of the Wayfinder process and elevate the ambition to creating positive change beyond the focal scale. The attached discussion guide includes a set of questions that will help you structure your work on aspirations. See also two attached activity sheets that are helpful to articulate shared aspirations.

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10: System benefits

To start characterizing the social-ecological system in focus, it is useful to map out the benefits that people currently derive from the system and reflect on how these benefits contribute to well-being for different groups of people. This work card describes how an ecosystem services approach can be used in the exploration of system benefits.

Use a workshop process to document the benefits stakeholders receive from the system. Ecosystem services is a good lens to use, but you may also want to use alternative framings to fully explore the system benefits. Ensure you have a wide range of  different perspectives involved in the process.

Suggested approach: workshops with multiple stakeholders

Time required: 1hr

Facilitation skill level: High

Resources: workshop materials, whiteboards, poster paper, markers, sticky notes

Bundles of ecosystem services as a fingerprint of the system

A good entry point to the discussion about benefits obtained from the system is the ecosystem services concept. All landscapes and seascapes provide us with provisioning services, such as food, fiber, fodder and construction materials, regulating services, such as climate regulation and flood control, and cultural services, such as opportunities for recreation and spiritual values in nature. For example, a mangrove forest can provide coastal communities with firewood, flood protection, and habitat for fish species that people value.

Farmland close to the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. A good entry point to the discussion about benefits obtained from the system are ecosystem services. The multi-functional landscape in this photo provides people with a diverse bundle of services, including crops from the fields, wood products from the patches of trees, and clean water from the streams coming down the mountains. Photo: iStock.

These ecosystem services interact with each other, in response to how the landscape is managed (e.g. what fishing methods are used), and the biophysical conditions that exists (e.g., the coastline structure and key species), resulting in a particular set of ecosystem services that is specific to that system. This is called a bundle of ecosystem services (figure 10.1).

Figure 10.1. An ecosystem services bundle consists of a set of provisioning services, such as food and construction materials (yellow), regulating services, such as flood protection and climate regulation (green), and cultural services, such as opportunities for recreation (blue). The approximate amount of each service is relative to other services in the bundle. Different groups of people in the system will benefit from different services in different ways. A social-ecological system produces a specific bundle of ecosystem services, under a given management regime and in response to existing biophysical conditions. The bundle can therefore be seen as a fingerprint of the systems current trajectory of development. Defining system benefits through an “ecosystem service bundle” lens helps keep the Wayfinder process focused on sustainability. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote

Different groups of people in the system will benefit from the bundle of services in different ways (food, health, income) and to different degrees. For example, while the whole community will benefit from the flood protection provided by the mangrove forest, only fishermen with access to a boat may be able to fish certain fish species. The attached case illustrates how men and women in coastal Kenya in different ways and to different degrees benefit from different services provided by the mangrove.

A bundle of ecosystem services, together with the distributed benefits it provides to the population, can be seen as sort of a fingerprint of the system, which illustrates important relations between humand and their surrounding landscapes and seascapes. Looking at system benefits through this lens enables an integrated social-ecological perspective, which helps with keeping the Wayfinder process focused on the close connections between people and nature and sustainability issues.

Click here to learn more about ecosystem services and human well-being by Tim Daw, Researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre

Documenting ecosystem services

One way to start your exploration of benefits is by simply listing important provisioning, regulating and cultural services in your system, and then reflect on how this bundle of services contributes to different aspects of wellbeing for different groups of people in the system. It is important to both think about direct benefits (such as food production) and indirect ones (such as pollination), if the benefits are increasing or decreasing, and if there are known trade-offs or synergies between them. For example, there are known synergies between soil organic matter and crop yield, and known trade-offs between intensive crop production and cultural landscape values.

It can be useful to draw simple maps or diagrams of the system and the linkages between ecosystem services and the different groups that benefit from those services. In some cases, there may be quantitative data that can support the exploration of ecosystem services, whereas in other cases this will be primarily a qualitative assessment, at least to start with. See the attached activity sheet and discussion guide.

Alternative framings for system benefits

In some contexts, an “ecosystem services” framing may be perceived as too technical and/or not able to capture the way people relate to nature. In those cases, other framings should be used to characterize system benefits. Simple lists of outputs or products or even more broad categories like food, shelter etc from the system organized by land uses or ecosystem types can be a useful start.

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11: Social-ecological dilemmas

Following the discussion about aspirations and benefits, the next thing to do is to identify what it is that people find problematic about the system. In other words, what is it that hinders them from achieving their aspirations? This work card details how you can define these problems as social-ecological dilemmas.

In smaller single stakeholder meetings and larger multi-stakeholder workshops, explore the social-ecological dilemmas perceived as the most problematic. Ensure the process clearly identifies the underlying cause of the dilemma where possible at his stage. 

Suggested approach: workshops with multiple stakeholders

Time required: 2-3hrs

Facilitation skill level: High

Resources: workshop materials, whiteboards, poster paper, markers, sticky notes

What is a social-ecological dilemma?

It is now time to start defining and describing the main problems and issues in the system. In Wayfinder, we frame these problems as social-ecological dilemmas. They are the local scale expression of the sustainability challenges that we face, but we refer to them as dilemmas, because at this level, the problems are often about choices between different stakeholders’ values and how we prioritize to deal with different types of social, economical and environmental interests. This generally involves difficult but not insurmountable challenges, for instance about where resources should be extracted, in what way, and for whose benefit. Through these discussions, issues of power, rights, equity and access to resources for different groups in the community start to emerge.

Flooding after heavy rains in the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, creating large problems for the inhabitants, who as a consequence suffer from loss of property and poor sanitation. The Wayfinder process, focuses on how to address this type of social-ecological dilemma, which are the local scale expression of the sustainability challenges that we face. Photo: iStock.

A social-ecological dilemma could, for example, revolve around the generation of different types of ecosystem services, or the choices regarding how benefits from the system are distributed. Distribution of water for multiple purposes such as irrigation, drinking water, hydroelectric power, and fisheries habitat for example can lead to a difficult dilemma when there is a limited supply of water and unequal access rights to water among different stakeholders. Another dilemma might involve how much land to manage for agricultural production versus biodiversity protection, or how to best combine these objectives. These types of issues share elements of trade-offs, e.g. between those who win and those who lose from the current state of affairs, between short and long term benefits or about how potential changes to the distribution of benefits may impact differently on various groups of stakeholder and can therefore be described in terms of a social-ecological dilemma.

Exploring dilemmas

Working out the dilemmas is usually quite straightforward, as this is what got people involved in the process to start with. For example, “we have a problem with soil fertility, declining harvests, and farmer incomes that needs to be solved”, or “young people are leaving these rural areas so there is no one that can take over the farms in the future”. However, it is important to remember that the first framing of the dilemmas is likely to change during the process as your understanding of the system dynamics evolve and you learn more about how the system works.

To start, use the attached discussion guide to help you explore relationships between key issues and problems that concern people in your system and that prevents them for reaching their aspirations. The attached activity sheet will also help you reflect on how your dilemmas link to the global sustainability goals.

Activity sheets

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12: Historical development of the system

Reflecting on how the system has changed over time will reveal historical legacies and provide a better understanding of how the dilemmas have emerged. This work card gives some useful tips for how to start exploring the history of your system.

During discussions, meetings, and workshops, use multiple recording and documenting techniques to capture the historical evolution of the system. The process can include story telling, drawing, images and video, maps etc. to help document and illustrate the historical evolution of the system. This can be done in small groups and collated later. Be aware of the sensitivity of culturally significant historical events.

Suggested approach: discussions, meetings, workshops and other gatherings

Time required: 1hr

Facilitation skill level: Low

Resources: Poster paper or long role of paper, markers, sticky notes

Situating a system in its historical context

Situating a system in its historical context often reveals how historical legacies, recurrent stresses, and periods of both gradual and abrupt change have influenced the current system, and in some cases continue to play a structuring role. Having a solid understanding of a system’s history will greatly improve your understanding of why the dilemmas have emerged.

When the train came to town. Large changes in infrastructure is often part of the historical development of the system, that continues to shape present and future development. Exploring the history of your system gives you a better understanding of e.g. why the dilemmas have emerged. Photo: iStock.

This type of historical investigation can also shed light on capacities in the system, for example by looking at how people have responded and dealt with crises in the past, and the various capacities available then and now. While a historical perspective on the system can yield important insights, especially when it comes to sources of adaptive capacity, it is important to remember that one of the key lessons of the Anthropocene is that what has worked in the past may not work today or in the future due to rapidly changing conditions, increased variability and surprising system outcomes.

For example, while a changing Arctic climate has led to melting polar ice caps, it has also led to an increased frequency of thick ice layers in parts of northern Norway, resulting from freeze-thaw cycles. This has made it difficult for reindeer to dig through the snow and graze. In the past, reindeer herders might move the animals to other areas, but industrial development on the landscape now hinders their movement along traditional routes, which has led to more frequent herd deaths. This new situation requires novel solutions and serves as a reminder that we have entered a period of time characterized by uncertainty, rapid global change, and a degree of connectivity that alters how change is experienced from local to global levels.

Creating a timeline

Keeping these limitations in mind, it remains worthwhile and informative to analyze the system’s development over time and reflect on historical reasons for why things are the way they are. This can be done in different ways, but creating a timeline together is usually an excellent way to start the discussion (see figure 12.1). The attached activity sheet describes how to do that and the attached discussion guide lists some important questions to reflect on.

Figure 12.1 Creating a timeline can draw attention to patterns of change and historical legacies that can be important for understanding the current system. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote

Activity sheets

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