How do we know where there is potential to intervene and leverage impact in a changing system? The practitioners perspective | Birney (2021)

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How do we know where there is potential to intervene and leverage impact in a changing system? The practitioners perspective | SpringerLink

How do we know where there is potential to intervene and leverage impact in a changing system? The practitioners perspective

Sustainability Science (2021)

Abstract

More and more people and organisations who are addressing complex sustainability challenges are turning to systems change practices. They are looking to get to grips with complexity and to better understand how to use their resources, position and influence to address the challenges. These people are working across civil society, philanthropy, business, international development, government and beyond. Many hope that adopting this emerging practice will give them the answers to the long held questions of – How do I know where to intervene? How do I know that what I am doing is the ‘right’ thing? Am I using my resources for their greatest effect? Once we have set ambitious goals around issues like inequality and climate change, how do I know I am creating impact?. In 1999 Donella Meadows wrote a paper entitled Leverage points: places to intervene in a system to help translate the work of systems dynamics into understanding where a small amount of energy might have a greater effect. Ever since, practitioners have been chasing these elusive leverage points trying to understand how this might be made useful and practical. There is, however, no silver bullet to changing a system. At Forum for the Future and through the School of System Change, we work on a number of different projects such as the Protein Challenge and Boundless Roots Community as well as collaborate on, coach and co-inquire with others such as the Marine CoLAB, Oneless, Lankelly Chase Foundation. In this paper we seek to build on systems change ideas and theories, using Forum for the Future experience of working with these ideas in practice, and offer actionable knowledge (Coghlan 2007) to other change makers who are grappling with these questions. This paper provides four qualities that help us understand the dynamics of a changing system, and how potential in these dynamics might be identified and be translated into strategy and interventions. I explore and illustrate these through cases and examples and raise the question about how change makers might value what we measure when understanding impact in the context of a changing system.