Forget solutions. Adaptable innovations are the way to resiliancy.

Image by Gaye Launder |

Image by Gaye Launder |

The natural state of the universe is relatively unorganized and complex. Similarly, our societal challenges are intricate and multifaceted. For many humans, there is a natural desire for order and simplicity. Many of the aspects of our lives are designed to function better with thorough planning and organization. Too often, this leads us to seeking simple solutions to our complex problems, when a more effective approach is to seek adaptive innovations with all scenarios considered.

Simple, quick-fix solutions may be eagerly embraced as the be-all end-all to addressing societal challenges. But too often these solutions produce unexpected or secondary problems; either because the solutions were not entirely comprehensive or because the original problem continued to evolve.

A few examples include the use of chlorination for disinfection and the use of GMO crops. Chlorination of drinking water has significantly reduced the death rate from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. However, chlorine can react with naturally occurring organic matter and form harmful disinfection by-products (DBP) such as trihalomethanes (THMs). GMO crops are claimed to provide farmers with more hardy varieties that are resistant to a variety of chemical sprays; though there are fears that the overuse of necessary herbicides and pesticides may cause the evolution of superweeds and superbugs. These are just two cases where a solution was embraced based on the immediate promising outcomes, but over time the secondary problems were revealed and must be dealt with.

These examples can help to remind all of us to question simple solutions that appear to provide long-term relief to complex problems.

To respond to today's evolving challenges, scenario planning and adaptive innovation should be sought. Of course, ensuring that we are asking the right questions should also be considered. Ultimately, this approach can help city managers and planners develop resilient communities in response to complex challenges.

Scenario planning is a tool that can help to develop innovative long-term plans given a variety of consequences. The point is to produce an array of adaptable innovations that can address the possible outcomes. The process uses the creativity and co-creation of passionate thinkers to envision the most likely results; and having multiple "solutions" in the end can be more valuable than a quick-fix for most societal challenges.

Check out one of multiple Waterlution WaterCity 2040 events happening across Canada from now until June 2015 to take part in a scenario planning activity and help develop resiliency in a community near you!

This article was originally posted via Sustainable Collective, which has since joined forces with The Starfish Canada.