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Points of Influence
Jamais Cascio, 7 Jan 04

I find that Jon Stahl's Journal often has interesting links to material on the web which may no longer be precisely timely but is certainly relevant. Such is the case with his link to Donella Meadow's excellent 1997 article in Whole Earth magazine, Places to Intervene in a System. It's a system-focused approach to finding points of leverage, which often, as she notes, "are not intuitive."

The nine intervention points:

9. Numbers (subsidies, taxes, standards).

8. Material stocks and flows.

7. Regulating negative feedback loops.

6. Driving positive feedback loops.

5. Information flows.

4. The rules of the system (incentives, punishment, constraints).

3. The power of self-organization.

2. The goals of the system.

1. The mindset or paradigm out of which the goals, rules, feedback structure arise.

Meadows covers each item in substantial detail. She concludes with an appeal to let go of comfortable paradigms in order to attack the roots of global problems:

I don't think there are cheap tickets to system change. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off paradigms. In the end, it seems that leverage has less to do with pushing levers than it does with disciplined thinking combined with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.
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Gr.... one of my least favorite thinkers, I'm afraid. Her stuff is either incredibly misunderstood, or basically useless. Every time I've seen it come up in discussion, things veer away from concrete action towards readily defineable goals into vague discussion of the philosophy of the system...

It seems to appeal to that streak of both greens and the left who think that by revisioning the system in a working form, things will change. However, in practice, all that happens is that the converted feel they have done what must be done, and the hard work of by-god dealing with the "lower" levels of the system, where all the actual work gets done, is posponed.

Consider yourselves warned. Those are just my experiences with people using (and hopefully misusing her work) but I feel she's false-comfort to a hard numbers world.

Posted by: Vinay on 8 Jan 04



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