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Transformational leverage

Not all activities, strategies, or groups seeking support offer the same capacity for social change, transformation, and evolution. The search for creating "more bang for the buck" is the search for leverage. Here are thoughts on what constitutes high and low transformational or evolutionary leverage.

Note that "leverage" is a linear, mechanical term. Some say it is an inappropriate concept to apply to a nonlinear complex living systems like a society. Perhaps a term like "transformational sweet spot" or "butterfly acupuncture point" might be better. The point is that there are some realms in which a limited intervention is likely to have a bigger, more desirable, or more elegant impact than in others. I use "leverage" here because it is common parlance. Feel free to replace it with whatever term communicates comparable meaning for you and your audiences.



HIGHEST LEVERAGE: Increasing the capacity of the society to function in positive ways and, especially, to change itself (consciously evolve) in positive directions. This involves shifts -- often systemic -- in

  • consciousness (awareness, assumptions, story, attitude);
  • community and relationships (including power relationships and social capital);
  • conversation and deliberation;
  • capacity for collective intelligence, collective response, and collective initiative;
  • systems or patterns of activity (habits, institutions, structures, practices, economic indicators, feedback loops; including infrastructure, subsidiarity, decision-making systems, resource allocation -- especially availability of resources for self-organization);
  • technology.

MEDIUM LEVERAGE: Making incremental changes in society's functionality. This involves changing

  • laws, policies, regulations, and programs (in ways that don't fundamentally change the factors above)
  • incentives and the behaviors related to those incentives
  • powerholders (elected officials, role models).

LOW LEVERAGE: Dealing with the effects of society's obsolete and dysfunctional activities. This involves changing

  • conditions (e.g. poverty, suffering, disaster),
  • locations (e.g., moving problems from one time and place to another -- e.g, NIMBY),
  • events (e.g., stopping a war or clearcut).




  1. Ameliorate individual or group suffering, threat or injustice
  2. Stop bad things from happening (war, pollution, cancer, discrimination, etc.)
  3. Promote pet solutions, projects, ideas, or issues in isolation from others

HIGH LEVERAGE STRATEGIES (these overlap but have distinct "centers")

1. BUILD A WISER DEMOCRACY -- This tackles perhaps the core issue: How (and how well) decisions are made on ALL issues. This includes local, national and global power relationships; public dialogue (including process and information access issues); and institutions for wise decision-making, among other things.

2. TRANSFORM CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS -- This is the paradigm shift, the change of worldviews. This is the underlying structure of how people think and respond. Change this and you've changed everything else, all at once. We want to move this towards holistic, collaborative, ecological, evolutionary, and living-systems perspectives.

3. DEVELOP AND PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGIES -- Technology affects how people do things and, by itself, creates social change. Three archetypes of society-changing technologies (too often in the "wrong" direction) are the car, TV and computer. When the word "sustainable" is used, most people think environmentally-friendly technologies. This leverage strategy includes those, but also human technologies for collaboration, collective learning and self-organization, all of which are vital for a sustainable culture. And getting them all used is at least as important as having them available. Related to this is:

4. HUMAN CAPACITY BUILDING -- both individual and collective. The challenges humans face are immense. The human potential movement did much to enhance our ability to embrace, process and address all that, but primarily at an individual level. We need a comparable program to increase collective capacity, particularly among (a) groups, organization, networks and coalitions working for positive social transformation/evolution, (b) communities of place, practice, and purpose, and (c) the society as a whole.

5. IMPROVE RESOURCES FOR TRANSFORMATION -- Part of this is channeling existing resources towards transformation. Part of it is getting smarter about how to get more for less (e.g., through the intelligent use of creativity, design for self-organization, synergy and community). The transformation of philanthropy is a priority because the overwhelming majority of financial resources are held by the top 10% of people in most societies. Another aspect is helping "movement" groups and organizations co-create an evolving shared coherence -- networks, strategies, visions, best practices, common ground, activist culture, evolutionary perspective, etc.

6. USE DIVERSITY AND CRISES AS RESOURCES -- This includes and transcends usual diversity work and conflict work. Differences and crises are powerful medicine: They are an incredible resource or a devastating obstacle, depending on how they are used. This leverage strategy is focused on tapping into the power of diversity and crises in ways that permanently transform people's awareness, attitudes and skills, or change the field within which people interact, so that human differences, conflicts, and crises are recognized as shaking up the status quo, thereby offering opportunity, insight, energy, and talents for transformation and evolution.

7. IMPEDE TOTALISTIC THREATS -- This is the only high-leverage strategy that tries to stop something. What it stops is genocidal activities (the destruction of species, cultures, languages) and omnicidal technologies (such as certain biotech developments that could destroy all life or human life) from which recovery may be impossible. Bill Joy's April 2000 WIRED article and the current terrorist threat combine to wake us up to the fact that soon individuals or small groups will be empowered to effectively "destroy the world" accidentally or intentionally. Climate change may also present such a threat. Preventing such disasters may only be possible with real progress on the other strategies.



Every one of the above strategies demands learning, not just by individuals, but by everyone, and/or by collective living systems -- organizations, communities, societies -- as living agents in their own right. We need to be extremely clear about how to enhance that capacity and use it with focused intent. Among the collective learning tools we might improve or transform and use to further the transformational strategies above are the following, each followed by at least one example:

A. EDUCATION - education in systems thinking

B. MEDIA - expanding civic journalism; Journalism that Matters

C. SOCIETAL FEEDBACK LOOPS - citizen deliberative councils which reflect back to the citizens the wisdom they could discover if they all had the time and quality dialogue to do so

D. STORY - women's movement having women share their stories; communities creating a shared vision together; story field conferences

E. RESEARCH - experiments to demonstrate that (and how) people with diverse values can work together cocreatively and effectively on public issues

F. STATISTICS [a powerful form of collective/systemic perception] - replace GDP with Quality of Life Indicators

G. MARKETING - placing transformational messages in popular movies; culture jamming

H. THE ARTS - broadcast performances which embody the diverse perspectives on public issues or events

I. BEST PRACTICES - establish websites for the sharing of what works and doesn't in communities and activism

J. DIALOGUE [I believe this one is most important] - provide citizens chosen for their diversity with excellent facilitation and information to make recommendations on public issues (see C, above), and have those recommendations circulated to study circles around the country for discussion; also, strategic conversations convened among specific stakeholders to realize targetted potential or release targetted stuck energy

K. INNOVATION DIFFUSION: Recently there have been studies of how innovations spread through a society, which is a form of societal learning, e.g., The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Reminder: Most of the above collective learning tools are applicable to all of the 1-7 strategies, and are themselves targets for improvement. And they interrelate.



Things are changing fast, even as I write this and you read it. Changing our own ways of dealing with our work, or relations with each other, and the forms of support we need and give, is essential if we are to be able to respond and initiate in timely, appropriate fashions. This is a form of capacity-building.

But none of us has enough time. I suspect if we handled that -- and most social problems are tied to that "no time" dynamic, one way or another -- we'd be half way home...

What do we put our attention on?

See also

Conscious Evolution

Conscious Evolutionary Agentry


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