Wayfinder is a collaborative process in five phases, for assessment, planning and action in social-ecological systems. The purpose is to develop sufficient collective understanding and insight into complex  system dynamics to allow  stakeholders at multiple levels to ‘learn’ their way towards a more sustainable future together. A central theme in Wayfinder is therefore the balance between a fair and legitimate process for knowledge generation and decision making, and a sound understanding of system dynamics in the Anthropocene.

A five-phase process

A Wayfinder process has five phases, which you work through iteratively as illustrated in figure 5. Each phase is divided up in three modules, and each module contains a number of work cards that describe specific tasks and activities. To help you conduct these tasks and activities, many work cards also has a set of illustrative cases, activity sheets, discussion guides attached. Each phase ends with a set of evaluation, reflection and sense-making questions that help you decide if you are ready to move on to the next phase, and that helps you make use of what you have learnt in the current phase.

Figure 5. Wayfinder is an iterative process in five phases. It starts by the creation of a Coalition for change that can lead to process forward, moving on to zoom in on system identity, explore system dynamics, develop strategies for change, and finally testing these strategies in reality and learning your way forward. The lessons learnt through implementation will allow you to gradually refine your systems understanding and your strategies for change, starting a new iteration of the Wayfinder process. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote

Phase 1 – Building a coalition for change. In the first phase of Wayfinder, you draw together a team of committed and capable people who will carry the process forward, who will design and tailor it so that it suits the specific context, and who can implement the plans that come out of the process.

Phase 2 – Creating a shared understanding of system identity. In the second phase, the coalition reaches out to a wider group of stakeholders to explore stakeholder’s aspirations for the system, and to describe the specific sustainability challenges at hand. An initial conceptual model of how the social-ecological system is structured and organized is created and a draft Change Narrative that describes your current understanding of how change may happen in your system is formulated. This frames the process, and gives it direction.

Phase 3 – Exploring system dynamics. In the third phase you analyze how components of the system interact, across scales, to produce the social-ecological dilemmas that people experience. You explore how option space has changed over time, and what future development trajectories for the system might look like. This is the technical core of the process, where the goal is to understand as much as possible about the dynamics that determine how the system works.

Phase 4 – Developing innovative strategies for change. In the fourth phase, you use your understanding of system dynamics to design strategies for adaptive or transformative change. This is done by a simultaneous focus on leverage points for systemic change, on agency to influence those points, and on the overall opportunity context that enables or hinders change in the system at a given point in time. At the end of this phase your Change Narrative is plausible and concrete to be translated into an Action Plan.

Phase 5 – Learning your way forward. In the last phase of Wayfinder, the Action Plan is implemented in reality through a learning-by-doing approach. This requires building a culture of learning, setting up pilot experiments that allow you to test your strategies for change, and working to embed your strategies in institutional structures to allow for wider impact. Your lessons learnt here will allow you to gradually refine your systems understanding and your strategies for change. Depending on what you learn, you start a new iteration of the Wayfinder process, by focusing in on one of the previous phases.

Balancing what you do with how you do it

The purpose of a Wayfinder process is not to accurately describe all of the detailed dynamics of a system. This is not simply a technical exercise. Rather, the purpose of the process is to develop sufficient collective understanding and insight into the complex system dynamics of the Anthropocene to allow stakeholders at multiple levels to ‘learn’ their way towards a sustainable future together. This requires a collaborative process that ties in the right stakeholders, across sectors and scales, at the right times.

Wayfinder is built on the understanding that in order to make good decisions about how to navigate towards sustainable futures, the process through which knowledge is generated and decisions are made is critical. Thus, Wayfinder sees the quality of the process as being of equal importance to the quality of the data, information and knowledge elicited (figure 6). This is a key insight for being able to build collective understanding, agency and commitment for change.

At the same time, decisions that are based on incorrect information, or limited in terms of deeper insights into underlying system dynamics, are unlikely to enable change towards a more sustainable future, no matter how fair, inclusive or transparent the process has been. The balance between, on the on hand a fair and legitimate process that builds capacity and connections between stakeholders operating in different sectors and at different scales (such as community members, decision makers, and knowledge brokers), and, on the other hand, conducting a solid system’s analysis that considers the complexity of the globalized and hyperconnected world we live in today, is therefore a central theme throughout Wayfinder.

Figure 6. The ability to create change in reality, relies in equal parts on the quality of the process through which knowledge is generated and decisions made and quality of content elicited through the process. This balance is a central feature of Wayfinder. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote

Becoming a reflexive practitioneer

To enable this balance, the Wayfinder process weaves together three different modes of thinking. Proceeding through each of the five phases you will move between 1) consultation, data collection and analysis mode, 2) evaluation and reflection, and 3) a deeper sense-making mode (figure 7). This iteration encourages reflexive practice and learning, where in addition to evaluating what you have done and reflecting on how well you did it, you will together with the other Coalition members also try to make deeper sense what you have learned, what this means for the overall Wayfinder journey and your prospects of navigating change towards sustainability.

Figure 7. The Wayfinder is an iterative process consisting of five phases, that puts equal focus on the quality of the process and the quality of the content elicited through this process. To enable a sound balance we have created a work process where you iterate between three modes of thinking; 1) consultation/data collection/analysis, 2) evaluation and reflection, and 3) sense-making. Illustration: E.Wikander/Azote