Panarchy is a concept frame to examine contradictory characteristics between stability and change in natural, complex systems. Panarchy is "the hierarchical structure in which systems of nature, human, as well as socio-ecological systems are interlinked in never-ending adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring and renewal"

Uses of the method

  • Integrative framework to study stability and change at regional, supra-regional and global levels
  • Helps uncover potential turning points 


  • Simple to use
  • Integrated model of STEEP factors


  • Mostly focused on ecological issues
  • More a hypothesis than an empirically tested tool

Steps to complete

  • Define the system to be studied and identify the current state and stage of the  lifecycle. Read the 'Further References' for how to connote this.
  • Now describe the likely upper and lower limits of stability beyond which a fracture or transformation may occur.
  • Next describe how much control can be exerted over the system to regulate its performance.
  • Then estimate the vulnerability of the system to sudden and unexpected disturbance.
  • Note the potential for life-changing inventions, experiments and tests that could trigger these vulnerabilities.
  • Note the stabilizing and conserving factors that hold the system in check.
  • Capture your most exciting idea and biggest fear .
  • Determine the fixed elements (almost certain hard trends) that will inform your strategic response: slow-changing phenomena e.g. demographic shifts, constrained situations e.g. resource limits, in the pipeline e.g. aging of baby boomers, inevitable collisions e.g. climate change arguments.
  • Capture critical variables i.e. uncertainties, soft trends and potential surprises. Both these and the fixed elements will be key to creating scenarios and examining potential future paradigm shifts.
  • Capture unique insight into new ways of seeing that can be utilized by the organization.
  • State alternative hypotheses drawn with different assumptions and judgments.
  • Consider what factors would likely change your mind through receipt of new information.
  • Determine which factors could surprise and alter your judgment and the direction of the outcome.
  • What conclusions can we draw from the exercise(s)?
    • How might the future be different?
    • How does A affect B?
    • What is likely to remain the same or change significantly?
    • What are the likely outcomes?
    • What and who will likely shape our future?
    • Where could we be most affected by change?
    • What might we do about it?
    • What don't we know that we need to know?
    • What should we do now, today?
    • Why do we care?
    • When should we aim to meet on this?
  • Develop next steps and determine if any further research required

Write your conclusions in terms of where the biggest opportunities and threats may occur from sudden and unexpected turning points identified above. Determine if further research required to fill in key knowledge gaps.

This method and your response can be shared with other members or kept private using the 'Privacy' field and through the 'Tag', 'Report' and 'Forum' functionalities. Use 'Tag' and/or 'Report' to aggregate your analyzes, or add a 'Forum' to ask others where they agree/disagree and encourage them to make their own analysis from their unique vantage point.

Click the 'Invite tab to send invitations to other members or non-members (colleagues, external experts etc.) to ask for their input. You can whether or not you want anonymous responses.  These can be viewed and exported within the Responses tab.

Further reference

Contact us
Even with all the advice and tools we have provided here starting a foresight project from scratch can be a daunting prospect to a beginner. Let us know if you need help with this method or want a group facilitation exercise or full project or program carrying out by us. We promise to leave behind more internal knowledgeable people who can expand your initiative for better organizational performance.

Contact us today for a free discussion on your needs.

Are there other enhancements or new methods you would like to see here? Let us know and we will do our best to respond with a solution quickly.

Some rights reserved. This particular part of the website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.