Saturday, March 04, 2006

Leverage Points

We talk a lot about Systems Thinking in this course. One of the key things that Systems Thinking reveals is how important it is to understand where the leverage points are where you can influence the system.

This article by Donella Meadows – Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system – lays out the concept beautifully, and is a brief, but seminal work on the subject.

She identifies twelve places to intervene (leverage points) in any system in increasing order of effectiveness. They are:

12) Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)

11) The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows

10) The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transportation networks, population age structures)

9) The length of delays, relative to the rate of system change

8) The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against

7) The gain around driving positive feedback loops

6) The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)

5) The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints)

4) The power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure

3) The goals of the system

2) The mindset or paradigm out of which the system – its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters – arises

1) The power to transcend paradigms


At first glance, I’m sure this list makes very little sense. However, I wanted to post it as a reference, and also encourage people to click through to the full article, where Meadows does a good job explaining it (even so, it may take a few reads to really internalize some of it).

Stay going…