Places to Intervene in a System

Donella Meadows’ 1999 paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System [PDF 96K] is a fantastic overview of methods for dealing with complex systems.

Folks who do systems analysis have a great belief in “leverage points.” These are the places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes.

Meadows argues that most leverage points are actually counterintuitive. When people recognize them at all, they tend to use them backward. Her list isn’t a panacea, but it abstracts out 12 basic starting points.

Constraints, parameters and numbers; sizes of buffers; structure of material stocks and flows; lengths of delays; strength of negative feedback loops; gain around driving positive feedback loops; structure of information flows; rules of the system; power to add, change, evolve or self-organize system structure; goals of the system; mindset or paradigm of the system; power to transcend paradigms.

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