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Towards a theory of leverage for strategic systemic change
My article “Leverage for Systemic Change” was recently published in the inaugural edition of Contexts, from the Systemic Design Association.
The article ultimately proposes a few key directions for a research agenda on leverage in systemic design (see the table below).
Table 1. A research agenda for leverage theory in systemic design
Research area Research questions Existing research Possible studies Possible contributions Dimensions of leverage - Is Meadows’s (1997) typology complete?- What other features of the “physics” of systemic change might matter? - System characteristics (Abson et al., 2017)- Conditions for systemic change Kania, Kramer, & Senge, 2018)- Other types of phenomena (e.g., bottlenecks, signals; Murphy & Jones, 2020)- Relative leverage: chaining leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)- Relative leverage: the context of the changemaker (Klein & Wolf, 1998)- Recursive leverage - A systematic literature review (Okoli & Schabram, 2010) of leverage points, especially using forward citations (Haddaway et al., 2022) from (Meadows, 1997) - Understanding the nature of leverage and other mechanisms of change potential in systemic change Methods for leverage - What methodologies are best to identify and select leverage points?- What kinds of evidence will help validate leverage?- How might systemic designers design theories of change (Gregor & Jones, 2007) for leverage theories?- How might systemic designers limit indeterminism (Lukyanenko & Parsons, 2020) in leverage theories? - Meadows’s (1997) typology’s order of effectiveness- Leverage analysis [Murphy & Jones, 2020]- Assessing potential for change (Birney, 2021) - Surveying practitioners in systemic design on how they identify, assess, and address leverage points to identify common habits and best practices - How to identify phenomena useful for leverage- How to evaluate and compare possible leverage points in the analysis phase- How to evaluate the effectiveness of chosen leverage points with evidence gathered from implementations Strategy with leverage - How is leverage best used in developing strategic plans for systemic change?- How are leverage-based strategies best presented and communicated?- How are leverage-based strategies best evaluated and measured? - Systemic strategy (Murphy & Jones, 2021)- The epistemic benefits of a leverage points perspective (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)- Identifying conditions for systemic change (Kania et al., 2018)- Relative leverage: chaining leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019)- Relative leverage: the context of the changemaker (Klein & Wolf, 1998) - “Systemic change labs” tracing and comparing the impact of interventions using different kinds of leverage - How to use leverage to develop better strategies for systemic change- How to account for relative context in the design of high-leverage strategies Execution on leverage - What are the best ways to target different kinds of leverage for systemic change? (E.g., how might we help actors in a system track all of the relevant paradigms?) - Fruitful friction as a tactic for transcending paradigms (Buckenmayer et al., 2021)- Systemic change happens via multiple dimensions of change (Mulder et al., 2022)- Design Journeys offers several chapters on taking action after identifying leverage points (Jones & Ael, 2022) - “Systemic change labs” tracing and comparing the impact of interventions using different kinds of leverage - How to design innovations for each type of leverage
Some other key takeaways:
- The concept of “leverage points” dominates modern discussions of leverage, but as Meadows (1997) herself proposed, that is just one paradigm we can use to view the best ways to produce systemic change.
- There are good and bad kinds of leverage points! See figure 1.
- A few promising insights about leverage have been proposed recently, such as the notion of “chains” of leverage points (Fischer & Riechers, 2019) and the idea of assessing potential for change (Birney, 2021).