The Young Wadden Academy comprises scholars from different disciplines. The underlying idea is that a mono-disciplinary approach is insufficient to attain a better understanding of the complexity of the Wadden Sea region. The Wadden Academy defined five themes, all of which have their own representative within the board. While the YWA is structured in a similar way, we quickly came to the conclusion that in terms of content, the bigggest challenge lies in the actual combining of the various disciplines.
Their combination is a prerequisite to approach issues such as 'the future of farming in the Wadden Sea area' as effective and complete as possible. Fundamentally, the Wadden Sea region needs to be studied as a system, with multiple constantly interacting functions. Following a number of highly intensive sessions with JAM visual thinking, we visualised this holistic approach in a 'discussion plate' comprising three layers.
The bottom layer emphasizes the subordinate position of the Wadden Sea area to processes happening on a global level. All these processes affect various functions within the area. Some major processes have been visualised in the figure, including Climate change, Energy transition, and Demographic developments. Needless to say, many more processes can be thought of. Importantly, these processes affect the Wadden Sea area, but cannot, or hardly, be influenced from the Wadden Sea area itself. This does not mean it is not possible to react on these changes.
Functions in the Wadden Sea area
There are many different functions in the Wadden Sea area. These include Tourism, Coastal protection, and Ecology, but also Habitation. When changes occur in one of the functions, be it externally triggered or not, this will affect the other functions in the area too. For example: innovations in fishing technology will alter the relation of this function with the natural values in the area, but may also affect the local and/or regional economy.
Working on the area together
The interplay between various functions demands cooperation between their respective spokespersons. Moreover, considerable variation exists within the Wadden Sea area. Where changes may not make that much of a difference on one location, they can have major impact somewhere else. We visualised this on the plate with a 'thumbs up' (doing great here!) and a 'thumbs-down' (problem). Probably even more important is the question mark: there are many cases in which we simply don't know and where additional research is necessary.
A mono-disciplinary approach will not be sufficient for the grand challenges ahead, including Coastal Protection, Habitation and Natural values. According to the YWA, the Systems Approach is the only way to really work towards a future for the Wadden Sea area.