Systems Thinking & Leverage Points

June 14, 2010 3 Comments
Systems Theory


One of our consultants just wrote the following e-mail to our team here at IISC. I thought it would be a good idea to put the question out to our readers – any thoughts?

Hello Colleagues,

I am wondering if you might have ideas about two things:

1. How to introduce systems thinking to a group – simply…

2. What questions you might ask when trying to identify leverage points in a planning process?

Context: The group has gathered a lot of anecdotal information, the intention is to gather additional information on best practices and research, however, we are not there yet. So how to begin to identify levers when we don’t have the benefit of having all data?

Thanks for any thoughts you might have on this!


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Love the question! Systems can be maddeningly complicated to map, but in some ways, not that hard to see–particularly if you’re part of a group for whom the system does not work.

    The Social Systems Design Lab at Washington University in St. Louis has a methodology that begins with stories. People tell the story of how the circumstance they want to address came to be, what influences what and who influences whom. They piece together a systems map from this group narrative as a basis for identifying ways to intervene in the system.

    David Peter Stroh of Bridgeway Partners has used a systems dynamics approach to identifying leverage points for change around social issues (see an article focused on ending homelessness on their website, called Leveraging Grantmaking).

    Glenda Eoyang has developed a methodology, called Complex Adaptive Systems, which also builds from narratives of people’s lived experience.

    What else do you all know about?

  • Chris Miller says:

    This is great! and I’d really like that t-shirt!

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