Exploring system dynamics is the core technical element of Wayfinder. The main objective here is to deepen the understanding of the dynamic relationships between key system variables that influence how the system works. This work builds on structured dialogue and analysis, and will require active involvement of key stakeholders, people with ‘technical’ expertise, and people with advanced systems thinking skills.


Beginning with the conceptual system model developed in Phase 2 that illustrates relationships among parts of the system the task here in Phase 3 is to investigate how the system works. Thus, we focus on the interactions between key system variables that shape the current trajectory of development and that give rise to the dilemmas people experience. This exploration will lead to a set of informed hypotheses about how the system currently works, what the option space looks like, and where the system might be heading in the future.

Exploring system dynamics involves structured dialogue and analysis. While the stakeholders involved in the process will have knowledge and experience that is necessary for this exploration, you will most likely also have to consult with other people with insights to how the system works, such as scientists. The goal is to produce a robust systems analysis, which reflects the impact of important cross-scale interactions, and which will inform the strategies for change that you will develop in the Phase 4. Working collaboratively to integrate different perspectives, articulate assumptions, and to co-produce this understanding is key to ensuring the legitimacy of the process and the quality of the outputs.

Phase content

In Module A, you develop simple models that illustrate how key system components interact to produce benefits and dilemmas. You then use these models to identify thresholds of potential concern in the system, as well as potential “lock-ins”, where the system gets trapped by reinforcing feedbacks that perpetuate an undesirable situation. Finally, you reflect on how system dynamics can change over time, as it moves through different cycles, and the potential influence of systems operating at different scales.

Module B deals with option space, which refers to the long-term capacity for adaptive and transformative change. Here you analyze how seven different dimensions of the option space are manifested in your system, and you assess how these dimensions have changed over time. Doing this analysis before you move into Phase 4 helps you to avoid creating new and potentially worse problems when trying to solve the immediate ones.

In Module C we look towards the future, scanning the horizon for new emerging drivers of change, and developing a set of future scenarios. We explore these futures by looking at how close they align with stakeholder’s aspirations, the benefits they hold for different groups of people, and how the option space is affected. Thinking about the future as multiple alternative possibilities or trajectories, helps us remember the inherent uncertainty of the Anthropocene. Scenario planning may also help with identifying critical decision points, where action is required to avoid crossing a threshold in the system. Scenarios can also increase the robustness of the strategies you design.


Phase 3 will generate three concrete outputs. The first is a model of system dynamics (or set of models), that illustrate key interactions, thresholds of potential concern, and existing traps in your social-ecological system. The second output is an option space diagram, that illustrates how important dimensions of the option space have changed through time. The third and final output is an analysis of plausible future trajectories for the system, expressed as a set of alternative scenarios, where important drivers for change, key uncertainties, and critical decision points are identified. All outputs from this phase are essential to develop strategies for change in Phase 4.