The Pathways Approach

In today’s complex, dynamic world, how might pathways to sustainability be built, which link environmental integrity and social justice? The STEPS Centre has developed a ‘pathways approach’ as a guide to thinking and action around emerging sustainability challenges associated with climate change, energy, pandemic disease, water scarcity, hunger, poverty and inequality.


Our pathways approach recognises that who you are shapes how you ‘frame’ – or understand – a system. For instance, a farmer, a seed merchant, a member of parliament and a multinational food company might all frame an agricultural system in different ways. Those various framings will lead to different narratives being told about the same system and different choices being made.

Too often the narratives of powerful actors and institutions become the motorways channelling policy, governance and interventions, overrunning the valuable pathways responding to poorer people’s own goals, knowledge and values.

Our pathways approach pays attention to multiple pathways and, backed by a variety of practical methods, helps open up space for more plural and dynamic sustainabilities. It also aims to open up the political process of building pathways which are currently hidden, obscured or oppressed.

Given deeply entrenched power and interests, building pathways to sustainability involves formidable challenges. Yet they are vital ones if the urgent global problems are to be genuinely addressed.

Lecture: The Pathways Approach

Part of the online course on Pathways to Sustainability, this talk by Ian Scoones gives an overview of the Pathways Approach and how it has been used in practice.

Briefing: The Pathways Approach

Read a short, accessible summary of the questions and ideas in the STEPS Centre’s approach to research.

Download briefing (PDF)

Paper: Pathways to Sustainability – An overview of the STEPS Centre approach

Read the first paper to set out the elements of the pathways approach and how they could be used in research and appraisal.

Download paper (PDF)

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