Reading Response – Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System by Donella Meadows


Strangely my first impression of this piece is that it was written by a man (what an example of paradigm!) because I didn’t closely check the authors name as I began to read. I just wanted to mention this because I think it is relevant to the article itself, as it does have a treatment of the importance of paradigms/worldviews and the power to transcend those.

This article was very revealing for me, and most reminded me of economic theory – which is used as an example several times when discussing examples of feedback loops and arising issues such as a “race to the bottom”.

The idea of ranking the order of effectiveness when it comes to different elements in a system was very enlightening! I think the author makes excellent points about the tendency of policy makers to focus on tangible parameters, while these are the least effective change mechanism. After all these parameters affect the actors lives and are the most visible and obvious. Given our current system of government and cyclical election cycles, it makes perfect sense that we short-sightedly focus on  the building blocks, and not how they go together or why.

I do think that there is potential here for “big data” or rather historical meta-data to play a big role in helping us to tie together different aspects of systems and provide better information about what is going on (high on the leverage point list). We read another article for our Design for the Century lecture that addressed the Chilean project of Cybersen in the 20th century. This imagined computer attempted (and failed only because of the power of technology at the time) to network an entire country’s production efforts – and even personal satisfaction – to support a socialist organization of the government. For example policymakers could real-time capture data from the means of production (factories) and identify issues, change policy like taxes or output quotas, and predict future issues in the market. A really good idea! Today this totally would be possible, and we the ability to self-organize for change boosted by connectivity and shared information. It just becomes more and more possible as we develop smaller low-powered sensor technology that can monitor almost every area of the modern urban sphere.

What this article made me consider was how entrenched power systems continually fail to use (or use incorrectly) various leverage points within their control – especially information and feedback – to the detriment of society as a whole. We touched on this in Unpacking White Privilege the purposeful ignorance of privilege and dissemination of whiteness as a desired cultural norm in order to continually put down and disenfranchise people, with the goal of maintaining entrenched power.


  • What technology can affect various leverage points?
  • How is it mitigating or amplifying the effects of positive and negative feedback loops?
  • How can technology help us to better aggregate & understand parameters so they can be managed at scale?
  • How can technology better promote information to give us feedback on how the system is working and distribute this data widely and fairly

Fascinating questions that deserve some answers!

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ThinkNet Blog

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