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A leverage points perspective on transformation: Invitation to a Global Conversation

From India to Mexico, from Bachelor students to senior scientists – people with a shared interest in social-ecological systems research from all over the world exchanged their ideas and discussed questions in four sessions of the online seminar series “Social-ecological systems: A global conversation”. Between October 2021 and February 2022 members of Leuphana University’s Social-Ecological Systems Institute shared their work with the world. This June, one more session will take place. Dave Abson and Julia Leventon will discuss the application of a leverage points lens as a way of exploring transformative change in complex adaptive social-ecological systems.

The notion of leverage points was first described by the systems thinker Donella Meadows, as places in complex systems where relatively small interventions can cause systemic changes. Meadows (1999) identified 12 leverage points from relatively easy places to intervene, but with limited capacity for systemic change (e.g., changing incentives, rules, or shortening system feedback loops) through to places where interventions are harder to do, but the possibility of transformative change is greater (e.g., changing how information flows, who gets to make the rules, or the underpinning paradigms for which such rules flow).

Together with colleagues, Abson and Leventon linked Meadows’ 12 leverage points to four system characteristics that represent a nested hierarchy of realms of leverage. Deep leverage points that affect the design and intent of a system have a bigger impact on this system than shallow leverage points that change parameters and feedbacks. (Figure from Abson et al. 2016).

In this conversation, Abson and Leventon will discuss if, and in which ways, the use of system characteristics based on Meadows leverage points can provide a useful lens for characterizing and studying change in social-ecological systems. They intend for the conversation to be as interactive as possible, so after a brief introduction to the topic, there will be the opportunity to reflect on and discuss how a leverage points perspective could be related to your own study systems and research topics.

Join us online to discuss, exchange ideas, and start a global conversation about social-ecological systems! To get the Zoom credentials, you can either send an e-mail to us at or register for the event here


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