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Defining challenges and understanding the system

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Addressing sustainability challenges – together

A systemic transformation requires multiple stakeholders to define shared challenges. By understanding how symptoms and root causes are interconnected it is possible to gain an overview of the system surrounding the relevant challenges. Systemic design offers several mapping-tools to guide the process.

Leverage points

A crucial aspect of the mapping is to identify potential for changes in the system: what we call leverage points. According to systems thinker Donella Meadows, leverage points are “places within a complex system (…) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.”

Finding the leverage points is therefore central to transforming a system. Each leverage point is also connected to one or more of the stakeholders, and this overview can help organise future demonstrators.

Donella Meadows describes leverage points on a scale from those that are not very transformative to those with a great potential for impact: incremental, breakthrough and transformational. Changing mindsets and being able to envision the new system are both transformational leverage points.

LEVERAGE POINTS

Iterations and gigamaps to understand the system

Gigamapping is a central design tool to capture, organise, process information, and extract insights about a system. A co-created gigamap gives the stakeholders a shared picture of the system from different perspectives; political, economic, technical, ecological and social.

In the process it is possible define challenges by answering questions about stakeholders, structures, perspectives, goals, and constraints in the system.

The process is iterative and supports the group to by re-evaluate and re-define the challenges. Iterations are also relevant and necessary during later stages of the process, but also when onboarding new stakeholders in a groing ecosystem.