How to change a system
So often, watching teams design change projects, I see a very limited number of ideas in play. I see 'education' or 'awareness' all the time. OFTEN IT'S ALL I SEE. Really, there is so much more we can do.
Just how big is our palette of strategies? Really big.
I've struggled with this myself, gradually expanding the number of strategies. Finally, I got around to reading Donella Meadow's work, part of the tradition of systems thinking called System Dynamics (that also includes Peter Senge's well known The Fifth Discipline).
Donella, brilliantly, listed 12 'leverage points' to change a system, in increasing order of effectiveness, from weak to strong. She challenges us to move along the scale, choosing stronger interventions.
I've taken the liberty of adapting her system to suit the language that's more familiar to professionals in sustainability, public health, road safety and so on. Plus I've added a number of interventions that we're more familiar with.
In fact, I can see 18 leverage points. The weakest is 'facts'.
I hope this tool acts as a prompt to remind us just how big our palette of strategies really is, and to move from weak to strong.
This paper is just my opinion. This is an exciting, under-developed field and everyone's ideas are welcome.
Hope you like it.
First, what's a 'system'? Before reading on, it's a good idea to be clear what 'system' means in this context. Here are 28 short statements about systems.
Now to the main article: 18 ways to intervene in a system. The diagram below is a summary. Click here for full-sized PDF version.
And here is an even simpler summary diagram.
A useful tool: Situation diagnosis
This tool helps match the intervention style with the complexity and turbulence of the whole system that's the subject of the intervention.