The problems with leverage points

Feb 2011 | News & Notes

The problems with leverage points, stocks and flows, feedback loops, variables and positive and negative relations.

After the Chalmers workshop we had a discussion on the usefulness of systems concepts that were defined in other systems frameworks that are more on the hard side of systems thinking, like from systems dynamics and systems analyses

One of them is leverage points. Personally I find this term of Leverage Points very difficult to use and it is more fitted to a technical or systems analytical or systems dynamics way of thinking than Systems Oriented Design. I also find the causal model where everything is defined in variables and the relations are defined as negative or positive quite restricting and limited. We are working on a list of relations types which will be published when more mature. It shows that not all relations make sense to be represented with nodes and arrows. 


The critique against using technical systems models on human activity systems is old and we can mention Russel Ackoff , Churchman and Checkland as references to soft approaches that are critical to using concepts like feedback loops, stock and flows, negative and positive relations and leverage points on human activity systems. Meadows who coined the concept of leverage points was originally from a rather hard corner of systems perspective, Systems Dynamics defined by Forrester, though they softened up  and tried to addapt their perspectives to human activity systems as well, with limited success to my mind.

I think the terms we used: points of potential, intervention, innovation, zoompoints etc are more explicit and easier to work with when “freestyling” GIGA-maps. But we should off course use it when we think it is useful.

We are in a mode of research to find a good framework for systems thinking in design.This framework is not fixed or finished and hopefully never will be. The framework of Systems Oriented Design needs to be different than the one engineers and technical systems analysts use, because this has been tried many times in design and it only works to a certain degree.

Maybe we are now seeing the contours of a concept for critical systems thinking in design. This approach will critically use different models in design but also add its own ways and perspectives and keep the focus and weight on the designerly approches to complexity and systems thinking.