Achieving a more sustainable, safe and just future for all poses one of the biggest challenges and greatest opportunities of our time. By synthesizing the frontiers in resilience and sustainability science into a clear, coherent and hands on approach for assessment, planning and action in social-ecological systems Wayfinder represents a new generation of resilience practice that will guide development practitioners, policymakers and other changemakers navigating towards better futures.
At its core, Wayfinder builds on resilience thinking, which brings together ideas from complexity science and social-ecological systems thinking. While it has its roots in previous resilience assessment approaches, it represents a major innovation in resilience practice. First, the framing is new. Wayfinder specifically targets the challenge of navigating towards sustainable, safe and just development trajectories in the Anthropocene. Second, it takes a step further than previous approaches to resilience practice, providing guidance not only for system assessment and planning, but also for real action. Third, it provides a much needed practical synthesis of the current frontier in resilience and sustainability science into one coherent approach.
In this introduction we present some of the underlying theory that Wayfinder draws on and how this relates to the challenge of sustainable development in the 21st century. We then explain how Wayfinder approaches this challenge, and discuss some of the key concepts with which you need to familiarize yourself with before starting the process. Next we provide an overview of the process’ five phases, and how to work through them in an iterative way. The last part of the introduction talks about what to expect from a Wayfinder process, which highlights how this process is different from other approaches to resilience practice.
While this introduction will take a little bit to get through, it is worthwhile spending that time before embarking on your Wayfinder journey. The approach taken in Wayfinder, and the perspectives on which it builds, is in many ways a departure from more mainstream ideas and approaches to sustainable development. Learning to see the world through a new lens – here a complexity perspective on the social-ecological challenges of the Anthropocene – involves a gradual learning process, and the introduction here allows you to get acquainted with resilience thinking and practice. Understanding how this particular view of resilience applies to your context is likely to continue to evolve as you move through the Wayfinder process.
What is in a name?
“[Resilience] is about having the capacity to continue to learn, self–organize, and develop in dynamic environments faced with true uncertainty and the unexpected, like steering a vessel in turbulent waters.” (Folke 2016)
“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 Davis 2009)
Centuries ago Polynesian explorers and traders traversed the Pacific Ocean for resources and opportunities while populating islands spanning thousands of kilometers of open water. At a time when European sailors kept the coastline in sight, before the invention of the chronometer provided a way to measure longitude, the Polynesians were finding their way in seafaring canoes with no maps or navigational instruments aboard.
The small crews of around ten included a captain and a Wayfinder. Seated alone in the stern of the boat, it was the Wayfinder’s job to navigate. Relying on years of training, following stars, interpreting the patterns of ocean swells and waves, and careful observation of wind, clouds, weather and wildlife, the Wayfinder kept track of where they were by never losing the connection with where they came from. These were not voyages of chance. The skilled crew worked together taking shifts while the Wayfinder remained awake for the duration of the trip relying on multiple cues, processing information, and adapting to weather and local conditions. Setting out for islands thousands of kilometers away without a precise route, but with a deep understanding of how to find one’s way in the ocean, the Polynesian mariners were expert navigators.
Just like the Polynesian explorers, there is no clear path laid out before us, nor any maps to show the way towards a more sustainable future. But there is a wealth of knowledge from different sources that we can collect, interpret and learn from, and innovative ideas from around the world to draw on, to help us navigate, collectively learn, and find our way forward.
We named our process guide “Wayfinder: a resilience guide for navigating towards sustainable futures” because it reflects the challenge ahead of us so well, but also because we believe that the skills and bravery shown by the Polynesian mariners can continue to be an inspiration for people who search for a better world today.