Pathways Projects

The Pathways Projects aim to encourage inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration, further pathways research on the ground in diverse contexts, and support early career researchers interested in working on transformative change.

Pathways Projects

The Pathways Projects aim to foster interdisciplinary and international collaborations between various research communities working on pathways for sustainability within and beyond the Future Earth community, including Future Earth’s Global Research Networks (GRNs) and Belmont Forum Pathways and Transformations 2 Sustainability (T2S) Collaborative Research Actions (CRAs).

Over 24 months, three Pathways Projects will explore pathways approaches, methods, and tools within and across three thematic areas: groundwater, land systems, and coasts. Each Pathways Project consists of a Working Group forming a diverse (in terms of geography, discipline, gender, career stage, etc.) international and interdisciplinary team, including one postdoctoral researcher, and is led by two Scientific Co-Leads (one co-lead from a social sciences/humanities background and the other from a natural sciences background).

Specifically, the Pathways Projects will work on:

  1. Synthesis of Pathways research (within thematic areas): to enhance the knowledge and understanding of pathways approaches, methods, and tools across different contexts, spatial and temporal scales on a specific theme
  2. Comparative analysis (across thematic areas): to analyse different pathways approaches to identify research gaps and opportunities for synergies across themes.



Pathways, as a concept, is gaining attention across sustainability-related fields in response to rapidly intensifying socio-environmental problems. However, with its increased ubiquity comes a diversity of associated concepts (e.g., transition, adaptation, transformation, scenarios, etc.) covering different scales, founded in diverse disciplines, focusing on various systems, and with distinct methodologies and objectives. 

Four broad categories of pathways approaches are often distinguished: (1) Quantitative Systems Modelling and Target-based Scenarios, which aim to analyse and compare specific sets of policies (or scenarios) through target-based backcasting and forecasting projections through quantitative modelling approaches (Turnheim et al., 2015); (2) Socio-technical Transitions look at shifts in socio-technical regimes based on interactions (e.g., external pressure, internal conflict, innovation) with the socio-technical landscape and niche innovations (Geels & Schot 2007; Scoones et al., 2020); (3) Adaptation Pathways are characterised by the adaptive nature of the decision process in the face of high uncertainty and inter-temporal complexity in the context of climate change (Werners et al., 2020; Rosenbloom 2017). and; (4) STEPS – Social, Technical and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability are founded in social and political sciences and describe approaches that enable fundamental change in power structures, institutions, and social dimensions (Leach et al., 2010; Scoones et al., 2020). 

The diversity of pathways approaches share a number of complementarities, united by a common understanding of the need for drastic action and alternative modes of existing on earth that are more sustainable and desirable. The difficulty of classifying these approaches according to their scale, discipline, system of focus, methodologies and objectives is a reflection of greater cross-pollination occurring between them. Traditionally ‘top-down’ approaches are becoming more inclusive, engaging in processes of co-design and co-development of pathways at the local and regional level. At the same time, the pathways research arena is still dominated by high-level technocratic pathways, whereas local and regional level pathways continue to receive less attention.

In 2023, the Pathways Initiative launched three Pathways Projects in an effort to contribute to a better understanding of pathways approaches, methods, and tools in theory and on the ground.

Awarded Projects

Pathways to Groundwater Sustainability (PilGRimS)
Carolina Dominguez Guzman, IHE

Building on the Belmont Forum T2S funded project, PilGRimS focuses on three empirical case studies in Peru, Algeria, and India to produce methodological tools that will enable different types of knowers, ways of knowing, and versions of groundwater to co-exist rather than conflict with or supercede one another.

Identifying Leverage Points to Foster Pathways Towards Sustainable Coasts
Willem Malherbe, IRD

Expanding on research from PACPATH, a Belmont Forum Pathways CRA funded project, three concepts (leverage points, chains of leverage, and the Future Earth Coast Framework of Circles of Coastal Sustainability) are combined to explore sustainable adaptation pathways in new and creative ways, focusing on New Caledonia and Fiji.

Co-producing a Spatial Toolkit to Navigate Pathways to Sustainable Land Systems in Mexico
Alma Mendoza, INECOL

The characterisation of socio-ecological land systems using a spatial toolkit that is co-developed by local stakeholders and experts aims to allow users to explore potential pathways shaping land system interactions and identify leverage points for system change and transformation.