Synergistic problem-solving


Climate change is the most urgent environmental and social challenge. But there are other problems that also result from our ecocidal industrial system.

The diagram explains how the causes and impacts of extraction and biocide entwine with climate change and resource scarcity. The black diamond at the centre is a growing whirlpool of intersecting knock-on effects.

The challenges we face include:

  • Food waste – 35% to 50% of food produced is wasted.
  • Pollution, wildlife deaths and landfill caused by overconsumption of plastic packaging e.g. plastic water bottles.
  • Pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) and herbicides are one cause of a ‘silent spring’, killing off ‘foodwebs’ and pollinators.
  • Sugar and hyper-processed food is one cause of a health crisis leading to high rates of obesity, diabetes, dementia and heart disease. The other linked causes are sedentary lifestyles, toxic overload (microplastics, air pollution, non-organic food etc) and hyper-prescription of pharmaceuticals (e.g. antibiotics).
  • Growing inequality of incomes, and a financial system geared around debt.
  • Struggles for young people, educated for employment when there is less of it, without the means to thrive.
  • Inadequate, expensive and unequally distributed housing.

Taking action to solve these complex interconnected problems involves synergistic thinking.

Complex problems need to be analysed to understand how the various dimensions of the problem are interrelated. But in these interdependencies lie its solutions.

Synergistic thinking is not easy, so new tools are needed. To give an example, this chart below analyses the problem for children (in UK today) who are increasingly unhealthy and constrained by a lack of outdoor play.

Towards the top left (purple) are more practical, tangible or explicit issues, and to the bottom right (green) are more implicit, deep-rooted cultural issues. The yellow base identifies the main categories of each type of problem.

It makes no sense to try tackling only the most explicit issue without addressing the more deep-rooted systemic issues. A synergistic approach is to ask: What kind of intervention could tackle at least two of these problems, both an implicit deep-rooted and a tangible or explicit problem, all together?



What problem do you think your organisation, working with your communities, can best tackle?

Can you come up with a linked set of interventions to tackle this problem in ways that are synergistic, addressing both a tangible and a more implicit deep-rooted cause?

How does art or culture particularly contribute to more synergistic interventions?

See the Metadesigners network for more information on synergistic problem-solving tools