System Intervention

What is Thinking in Systems? Written by Donella Meadows the book offers insight into problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. It shows readers how to “develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.”

“Some of the biggest problems facing the world–war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation–are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking. In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.”

What are the areas of intervention?

Meadows defines leverage points where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything. Each leverage point can be applied with great practicality to different circumstances for theoretical learning, personal insight, or facilitating change.

How might these ideas enhance to your research, story, and upcoming application?

Leverage Point

How it can be applied

1 Amounts/quantities Changing physical quantities that can be measured and quantified. Can products be more efficient? Concerned with reducing amounts of waste, energy and material resources. Many design approaches begin at this level through efficiency, end of pipe and single-issue solutions.
2 Redesign the structure Redefine products and production processes, which determine materials used, emissions, and waste. Will redesign make it more sustainable? Change would look at the materials and structure of a product in order to make it more recyclable/non-toxic/biodegradable.
3 Stocks relative to flows Changing the ratio of stocks to flows can influence system flexibility and stability. How can products become flows of services? Redefining products as flows of services can enhance efficiency through increased flexibility and durability.
4 Feedback loops/reduce delays Working with feedback is about working with information (consequences/impacts) rather than the physical part of the system. Feedback loops are more flexible, fluid and responsive than earlier leverage points. How is feedback incorporated? Environmental and social impacts are measured and treated as feedback loops to inform redesign of products, service and processes.
5 Information flows Can be thought of as missing feedback loops and providing missing information flows. Often takes the form of visualizing consequences and impacts. How is information conveyed? Information about product is conveyed through visual and graphic design. It forms a primary interface with consumers.
6 Critical nodes Locating critical nodes in a network is crucial for determining the effectiveness of intervention. Understanding what/who constitutes key nodes within a network can help to focus change or leverage opportunities within webs of relationships. Who are the players involved? Understanding who the players are in product development (consumers, government, business, and designers) and their “push/pull” relationship to each other will enable designers to take advantage of opportunities/challenges.
7 Changing the rules of the system Formal and informal rules define the parameters about how the system works. They can be formal regulations, economic incentives as well as informal social norms and practices. Can design help change ‘the rules’? Brand positioning can create perceptions/trends that affect economic parameters and social norms and affects what a business’ product/service offer will be.
8 Self-organization Systems do not always respond to changes (such as government policy) in predictable ways. They have the capacity to learn, adapt and respond creatively—in other words, self-organize. How can design be bottom-up? Bottom-up participatory design processes that involve users/participants can be creative ways to shift awareness and behavior.
9 Paradigm shift Paradigm refers to the collective ‘mind set’ of the system which carries with it powerful assumptions. Paradigms can change systems at a fundamental level and can happen in a millisecond. How can design impact sustainable lifestyles? Creative design inputs into envisioning future sustainable lifestyles can lead to a complete shift in perception about what is possible and desirable—with consequent impacts on demands for services and goods



The sketch is from: The Value Web