Strategic Leverage

In the beginning of the crafting of strategy, I spoke with Adam Groves (a service designer at The Children’s Society in the UK) about his work to translate some of MIT systems dynamics researcher, Donella Meadows’ work for his current role. His adaptation of “points of systems leverage” into a matrix for thinking strategically about developing a portfolio of initiatives for systems change in the social care sector resonated.

I chose to adapt it to visualise a variety of possible interventions which were emerging from the story of the system that I was developing. This map showed a wide variety of scales and intents, as an exercise to see what I would not do, as well as what I could.

In experimenting with the first version of the canvas, I realised the 2D nature of the canvas was restrictive due to the circularity of certain complex challenges (symptoms of issues which are not tackled can often feed into a negative patten, becoming upstream causes of issues for other people or species). So I revised it to a circular form, with the greatest forms of leverage at the heart of the circle. This exercise was very helpful in recognising where interventions were situated across the two spectrums of ‘systems leverage’ and ‘time of intervention’.

Key Insights

1. Outside In, to Inside Out

The simple act of creating a circular leverage map forced me to make one significant choice - should the highest leverage be on the outside or the inside? As I reflected on the words and insights of Donella Meadows’ work, I saw that the intent and design had to be at the heart of the circle. I realised that whilst I intentionally positioned my work outside organisations in the conservation sector, due to the strength of ‘system immune response’ to new ideas and ways of working, I am also designing a systems intervention which gets to the very heart of who, how and why this systems is designed this way, and finding socio-cultural ways to address that.

2. Feedback Loops

I was surprised by how highly Meadows had rated ‘creating new feedback loops’ on her list. This gave me greater confidence in the value of the opportunity for supporting community-based conservation groups to gather and use data, to shift the power dynamics in the system.

3. Reducing Overheads

Equally I was surprised by how low down ‘reducing costs’ was on the list, which made me realise that whilst we could bring down the costs of overheads for groups through the use of technology, fundamentally it would be a very weak driver of systems change in the sector. This led me to realise that this may be more of a marketing feature, but not at the heart of what I was trying to achieve with any interventions.