Cascade Institute

Cascade Institute
(2020, Royal Roads University, Victoria BC, 10 staff,

Founded by Thomas Homer Dixon based on the fact that “humanity now occupies or exploits most of Earth’s productive surface area, creating a single, tightly linked social, economic, and ecological system spanning the planet.” This system is on a destabilizing and dangerous trajectory. Therefore the institute aims to identify “high-leverage intervention points in cognitive, institutional, and technological systems that, if effectively exploited, could shift global civilization away from a path that leads to calamity and towards one that leads to fair and sustainable prosperity.”

Research Activities:

  • Inter-Systemic Cascades Project – A project that “maps causal routes through which the COVID-19 pandemic could sequentially destabilize associated national and global systems, causing cascades of change.” A series of briefs “highlights the pandemic’s implications for the eight key systems” and “maps a possible causal route of destabilization among these systems.”
  • Norm Cascades Project – Investigates “opportunities the pandemic might create for rapid and deep change in people’s norms—that is, in their beliefs, moral values, and emotional responses about how they should behave and how the world ought to be—that could in turn accelerate the sustainability transition, especially towards zero-carbon energy systems.”
  • Methods for system mapping – Their researchers “pioneered the development of several methods for mapping the causal structure and mechanisms of complex social systems. The Institute’s researchers combine these methods to understand opportunities for intervention in dominant WIT (worldview, institution, and technology) systems.”


Leadership: Thomas Homer-Dixon (Founder and Director)

Note: The name is derived from the it’s location in the Cascadia region, and a reference to cascade effects that can appear when a complex system reaches a ‘tipping point’. Those cascades can be “‘pernicious’ (socially harmful) or ‘virtuous’ (socially beneficial).”

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