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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mapping Leverage Points to VPEC-T

Over twenty years ago, Donella Meadows published some thoughts on intervention into complex systems [PDF of original paper]. A version of this paper is included in her book Thinking in Systems, which has just been published, several years after her death.

After discussion with Nigel Green, one of the authors of VPEC-T, I have done a mapping between the five elements of VPEC-T and the twelve generic leverage points identified by Donella Meadows. There seems to be a surprisingly good fit.

Donella Meadows makes two important points.
  • “Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction.”
  • “Complex systems are, well, complex. It’s dangerous to generalize about them. What you read here is still a work in progress; it’s not a recipe for finding leverage points. Rather, it’s an invitation to think more broadly about system change.”
So, with that warning, here they are, in ascending order of leverage ...

Places to intervene in a system (Donella Meadows)
12 - Numbers – constants and parameters such as subsidies, taxes, standards
11 - Buffers – the sizes of stabilizing stocks relative to their flows
10 - Stock-and-Flow Structures – Physical systems and their nodes of intersection
9 - Delays – the lengths of time relative to the rates of system changes
8 - Balancing feedback loops – the strength of the feedbacks relative to the impacts they are trying to correct
7 - Reinforcing feedback loops – the strength of the gain of driving loops
6 - Information flows – the structure of who does and who does not have access to information
5 - Rules – incentives, punishments, constraints
4 - Self-organization – the power to add, change or evolve system structure
3 - Goals – the purpose or function of the system
2 - Paradigms – the mind-set out of which the system – its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arises
1 - Transcending paradigms

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