Effective Advocacy: Understand the System
The effective advocacy planning process:
A. Identify, examine, and understand the issue you want to address.
B. Identify the key actors and their roles and build relationships with appropriate actors.
C. Understand the system, what can be influenced, and what the leverage points are.
D. Develop goals and objectives.
E. Develop strategies, tactics, a plan of action, and a plan for evaluation.
Understanding your issue and its root causes will help you better understand the system(s) that your problem is part of and help you find the best leverage points—those places where intervening in a system can create meaningful positive change.
Systems expert Donella Meadows created a list of places to intervene in a system, ordered by effectiveness (and also by the level of difficulty in achieving them).
If you were looking at possible ways to transform our food system, here are a few examples of potential leverage points that Phoenix Zones Initiative incorporates into its policy agenda and programs:
|Type||Leverage Point||Lever||Potential Solutions|
|Physical||12 Numbers||Constants, parameters, and numbers||Tighten pollution standards.|
|11 Buffers||Sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flow||Shift land used for animal exploitation to plant-based agriculture and/or to dedicated wildlife habitat.|
|10 Stock-and-flow structures||Physical systems and their nodes of intersection||Change agricultural practices to reduce emissions and to eliminate water pollution.|
|Informational||9 Delays||Lengths of time relative to the rate of system changes||Speed up the legislative process for passing comprehensive protections for workers, communities, animals, and the environment.|
Speed up implementation of new standards for emissions.
Impose an immediate moratorium on new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and phase out current ones.
|8 Balancing feedback loops||Strength of feedback loops, relative to the impacts they’re trying to correct||Remove public subsidies that support large meat and dairy production conglomerates.|
Make the price of all goods reflect their true human, animal, and environmental cost.
Impose the liabilities and costs of pollutions, accidents, and disasters on the agricultural conglomerates that control the market.
|7 Reinforcing feedback loops||Strength of gain around driving positive feedback loops||Focus on green development: mechanisms that allow people to improve their quality of life with readily accessible and affordable plant-based food options.|
|6 Information flows||Structure of information flows: who does and doesn’t have access to information||Get scientific assessment results out to the public faster, and in more accessible formats.|
Publicly report data about pollution, and worker and animal exploitation.
|Social||5 Rules||Rules of the system: incentives, punishments, constraints||Support and promote community projects that respect the rights, health, and wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet within the context of the food system.|
Transform the US immigration system to better protect workers.
Pass laws that provide nonhuman animals with basic rights.
|4 Self-organization||Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure||Focus on evidence-based policymaking.|
Create resilient human and animal communities.
Change to proportional representation.
Celebrate social and species diversity.
Empower the most vulnerable and most affected to be an integral part of the planning and decision-making process.
|3 Goals||Purpose or function of the system||Aim for sustainability and wellbeing, rather than growth.|
Focus on rights-centered economies instead of GDP.
Change corporate charters to prioritize human, animal, and planetary rights and wellbeing.
|2 Paradigms||Mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises||Shift our mindsets from consumerism to living in harmony with other beings and the planet.|
Shift our mindsets from individualism to community.
Shift our mindsets from individual or corporate greed to egalitarianism.
|1 Transcending paradigms||Power to transcend paradigms||Apply systems thinking to see systems from multiple perspectives.|
Realize how our perspectives shape our interactions with the system.
Here’s an example of some leverage points to address the climate crisis.
In REimagining Activism, the authors list several potential high-impact leverage points to help people in general, including instituting universal basic income; implementing worker, housing, and consumer cooperatives; and replacing the GDP/GNP with an indicator like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness indicator.
Tools to help you find possible leverage points include these:
Systems Map helps you visualize and analyze the factors that make up a system.
Iceberg Model helps you analyze the events, patterns, systemic structures, and mental models that underlie a system to help better understand the system and potential leverage points.
Pillars of Power helps you analyze the institutional pillars that prop up the problem and identify those most critical to holding up the system and those that you can most influence.
Leverage Mad Lib (see p. 71) helps you “build your leverage hypothesis” of what could happen by engaging that leverage area.
Points of Intervention highlights the points of production, destruction, consumption, decision, and assumption as potential areas for intervention.
For more insights into leverage points, see: