Skip to Main Content

Sustainability Home > Priorities > Innovation > Innovation Learning Lab > Developing an ecology of solutions

Developing an ecology of solutions

Rosalie Lou and Valen Boyd 

The January sessions of the Innovation Learning Lab featured keynote speakers Terry Irwin and Gideon Kossoff, who introduced participants to Transition Design to help understand how complex systems behave and change over time.


Such wicked problems are the most challenging and complicated problems we face as a society, many of which are interconnected, including poverty, climate change, and the spread and response of COVID-19. Since these problems emerge at the systems-level, they typically create and exacerbate many "downstream" problems that we see in our everyday lives in the workplace or our communities. 


To adequately address such enormous challenges, we have to approach them systemically by developing an ecology of solutions, which requires interventions at multiple levels of the system over time. In general, we should first approach the solutions by deconstructing a wicked problem (i.e. into social, political, business, environmental, and technological issues), mapping the connections among the problems, and understanding the stakeholder relationships connected to the problem (and collaborating with them too!). After learning how the wicked problem emerged and evolved, we can start designing for transition by setting long-term, future visions and brainstorming an ecology of solutions that gets to the heart of the problem. 


When we encounter these wicked problems, we often look for a "silver bullet" solution, with a genuine hope that we can resolve the problem with one shot. Such silver bullets, unfortunately, only work for simple problems. Often the problems we focus on are merely symptoms of other systems-level wicked problems that we might be unable to "see" with too small a scope with time or space. But with a more holistic understanding of what we're facing, we can begin to tackle the causes at these strategic leverage points, and not just what may be symptoms instead.