25: Establishing an open and innovative mind-set

Before moving to identify innovative solutions for dealing with the identified dilemmas, it is useful to spend some time sharpening your creative thinking skills. There are many techniques for this and this work card suggests how to deliberately reframe challenges in order to surface new insights and potential solutions.

In one-on-one discussions, small meetings, and workshops explore how it is possible to change perspective by trying to reframe the issue to help break established thinking patterns. Try role playing, story telling, drawing diagrams, changing assumptions, bringing in outsiders, scale jump to explore how the issue looks from from other scales, and talking to people that have solved or dealt with similar issues elsewhere.

Suggested approach: one-on-one discussions, meeting, workshop

Time required: 1-2hrs

Facilitation skill level: High – creative and systems thinking approaches

Resources: creative resources to allow drawing, story telling, role play etc.

Reframing to avoid entrainment

By now you should have a fairly good idea about how the system works, and it is likely that your initial thinking on the key issues and challenges has changed substantially. Still, the dilemmas are well-known and there are often established ways of thinking about them. This can lead to ‘entrainment’ and getting stuck in old ways of reasoning and doing, which may inhibit thinking creatively about solutions. Reframing the challenges can surface new insights and re-energize people to address the challenges differently.

Apartment buildings in Hong Kong, China, seen laying on the ground. Before you start identifying innovative solutions for dealing with the dilemmas, it is useful to sharpen your creative thinking skills. Reframing and changing perspectives, is one of the multiple techniques that can be used to stimulate creative thinking. Photo: iStock.

For example, it is easy to focus on overgrazing as strictly a technical management problem, but it may be useful to reframe it as a social problem where overgrazing leads to off-site impacts that affect the wider community. As a social-ecological problem, you may identify different interventions than those identified from a technical perspective, and you may engage with different people to solve the problem. The attached case from the Kristianstad biosphere reserve in Southern Sweden, describes how reframing the area’s identity from ‘water sick’ to ‘water rich’ opened up an entire range of new solutions.

Challenging assumptions

Another reframing technique involves challenging the assumptions that you are making about a problem. For example, in a rural area that suffers from out-migration of young people, you might assume that a key driver is a lack of employment opportunities. But what if the main driver has more to do with not wanting to be seen as old-fashioned and getting left behind. Solutions to the problem (out-migration) require different strategies depending on which assumptions are most in line with reality.

Challenging assumptions and reframing can be powerful tools for bringing new perspectives to persistent problems. Before moving into Module B of this phase, where it will be very useful to have an open mind and to think creatively, we recommend that you reflect on alternative framings and underlying assumptions for each of the dilemmas in your system. Box 25.1 lists a few techniques that can be used to stimulate creative thinking and identify innovative solutions.

Click here to learn more about innovation and scaling of innovations by Per Olsson, Researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Michelle-Lee Moore, Deputy Director, GRAID programme at the Stockholm Resilience Centre

Box 25.1 – Identifying innovative solutions

We are often ‘trapped’ by our own thinking style and experience or by the constraints of our organization or context (our organization only does x type of work, so that is the type of intervention we are focused on). Many deeply entrenched problems facing communities in developing contexts require among other things, creative thinking. Below are some tips for identifying innovative solutions.

Get specific – Use the work done in Phases 1-3 to ensure you are asking the right questions.

Learn fast -Look for novel solutions in other systems where similar problems have been solved. Can you “test” the solution’s suitability for your context?

Break patterns – It is unlikely that more of the same types of interventions just done slightly better will result in a substantial change in your system, consider new and different types of interventions.

Positive deviance – Is there an example within the system where something is going against the trend? For example, maybe one farmer is producing substantially more grain than other farmers, or perhaps someone has developed a new market for their product that has never previously existed. What can you learn from these surprising situations?

Observe the issue in action – Rather than making a lot of assumptions, can you observe the issue in action? Sometimes by observing the issue in action you can discover new insights. Consider spending time with those most impacted by the issue, what are their insights about managing the issue?

Design in partnership – Design interventions in partnership with stakeholders, drawing on the knowledge and experience of those who will be implementing the intervention.

Challenge entrenched patterns of thinking – include people from outside the topic area or region to bring in new perspectives and ideas and to question your thinking. Don’t be constrained by current norms or resourcing, identify potential interventions first, then vet them for practical constraints.

Multiple ideas – Ask people for 3-5 options to address an issue, rather than just one, this forces them to be very creative and engage more deeply with the task.

Crowdsource ideas – Can you use an online community to generate innovative interventions?

Organize a TLab – Get an innovative group of people together in a facilitated process, specifically designed to come up with “prototypes” that could solve your problem.

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26: Articulating a high-level goal for the Wayfinder process

To be able to come up with innovative solutions to the problems at hand, it is important that everyone involved in the Wayfinder process agree on the goals of the process, especially since these might have changed along the way. This work card guides you to articulate a clear goal that brings together people’s aspirations, the required level of change, and some expression of the dilemmas being addressed.

In a meeting with coalition members and key stakeholder representatives, work through the decision tree, discussing each question until you reach an outcome that participants agree on. Record the rationale behind the decisions made. Record the assumptions that you are making as you work through the process.

Suggested approach: meeting with representatives of stakeholders and Change Coalition

Time required: 2 hrs

Facilitation skill level: High – including capacity to manage conflicting views and objectives

Resources: decision tree, recording material to capture key points and assumptions

Revisiting the change narrative

Before developing specific solutions, it is important that stakeholders agree on the goals of the Wayfinder process, especially since these might have changed along the way. A useful way to start this process is to revisit the initial Change Narrative developed by the Coaliton in phase 1 and by a larger group of stakeholders in Phase 2. Given what you now know about the system dynamics, trends in option space, and future trajectories, is the initial Change Narrative, still relevant, or has something new emerged that makes you think differently about the aspirations, the dilemmas, the potential solutions to these, or the role of your Wayfinder process in creating change towards sustainability? See also attached discussion guide.

Reflecting on the required level of change

With this discussion fresh in mind, use the decision tree below (figure 26.1 and attached activity sheet) to structure a dialogue with stakeholders about the level of change that will be required to move your system towards a sustainable, safe and just future.

Men talking outside a riverside house in a rural area outside Bangkok, Thailand. At this stage in the Wayfinder process it is important to articulate and agree on a high-level goal. This goal should bring together the type of of change required to solve the dilemmas and people’s aspirations. Will moving towards the aspirations of these men require adaptive or transformative change? Photo: iStock.

Does the current system meet the aspirations of most stakeholders most of the time? Is the system on a sustainable trajectory? If the current system does meet most stakeholder aspirations most of the time, and the trajectory is deemed sustainable, working through the decision tree should lead towards a goal of Persistence i.e., maintaining the current system as is. Given the general challenges of the Anthropocene, this is an unlikely outcome. It is more likely a system will fail to meet people’s aspirations, or at least not do so in a sustainable way. Working through the decision tree will then direct you towards: Adaptation, Adaptation while preparing for Transformation, or Transformation. As you work through the decision tree document the assumptions and reasoning for your responses as they will be important later on.

Figure 26.1. The decision-tree can be used as a starting point for discussing the higher-level goal for the system. Depending on aspirations and sustainability challenges, you will be guided toward one of four approaches to dealing with change. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote

Articulating the goal of the Wayfinder process

Articulating a high-level goal for the Wayfinder process brings together people’s aspirations with the type of of change (adaptation, transformation, etc.), and some expression of the dilemmas being addressed. It is important that key stakeholders are part of the discussion about the high-level goal, as this goal will determine the level of commitment and resources required. Don’t worry about the exact wording of your goal, it can be refined later. At this stage it is enough to capture the intent of what stakeholders in the system want to achieve and why. Box 26.1 provides a few examples of how these goals can be formulated. Box 26.2 helps you to evaluate if you have settled on the right goal for your system.

Box 26.1 – Examples of higher level goals

To improve the resilience of food production systems to reduce childhood malnutrition, by adapting local farming system to declining rainfall and reduced labour’.

‘To transform livelihood options to address persistent poverty and improve human well being by developing sustainable tourism Deep Green Wetland System’.

Box 26.2 – Criteria for evaluating if you have settled on the right high-level goal


Rationale: Your goal is to maintain the current system and the delivery and distribution of the current suite of ecosystem services in the face of known drivers for change. The aspirations and needs of most stakeholders are being meet most of the time, the option space is stable and the trajectory is sustainable. Uncertainty is low.

Appropriate action: Action strategies will be orientated towards maintaining the current dynamics, structure, function, values and benefits of the current system, which is fair, just and sustainable over the long-term.


Rationale: Your goal is to make incremental change to your system because it is failing to deliver some of the aspirations to some of the stakeholders some of the time. The system is not moving towards known limits or thresholds. Option space is relatively stable, and problematic dimensions are known. You deal with predominantly known drivers and shocks.

Appropriate action: Action strategies will be oriented towards adapting current system dynamics. There may be some uncertainty about critical dynamics, but other issues are well known and understood and you have reasonable control or influence over key dynamics, which can be targeted by deliberate action.


Rationale: Your goal is to deliberately transform parts or all of the current system to break out of a lock-in trap, and shift to a substantially different trajectory to avoid crossing critical thresholds in the near future. Option space is declining. The aspirations of the majority of stakeholders are not met, the system is unsustainable and unjust for many stakeholders.

Appropriate action: Action strategies will be orientated towards transformation by destabilizing any reinforcing feedbacks, and breaking existing patterns, processes and structure. This will involve deep changes within the system, which may take considerable time, effort and resources. Even if change is needed, this level of change will likely create resistance within the system. Uncertainty is high about the outcome of the transformation process.

Activity sheets

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