Leverage Points 2019 Conference: Systems thinking

By David Abson

The international conference “Leverage Points 2019” will be hosted by Leuphana University in the historic Hansestadt Lüneburg from 6-8 February 2019. While the conference has a number of core themes related to sustainability research and transformations, it was in no small part inspired by the seminal work of the great systems thinker Donella Meadows. In particular, Meadows’ impassioned plea for a more systematic approach to intervening in complex systems has been a key inspiration for the conference. Here I will introduce the systems thinking theme of the conference.

At its core sustainability can be thought of as a systems perspective. What it is we are trying to sustain is rarely a discrete single object, but rather a system of dynamically interconnected elements with a particular function or purpose (for example, a single farm, a pristine ecosystem, a cherished institution). In turn, that system is inevitably an element in a larger system. Where, and how, we define our system boundaries; how we describe system elements and the feedbacks between elements; and where we target interventions in complex, multi-dimensional and multi-scalar systems, fundamentally shapes how we conceptualize, and attempt to move towards, sustainability.

Thinking about how we tackle such complexity in order to move toward a more sustainable world can be overwhelming, but it is a challenge humanity needs to face. System thinking – a skill set for better understanding the deep roots of complex behaviors (Arnold and Wade, 2015) – provides anchors and waypoints for navigating pathways towards sustainability. In this conference theme we will explore the challenges, benefits and potential pitfalls of applying systems thinking to sustainability and transformative change across multiple scales and different systems of interest.

This includes, but may not be limited to, issues and topics, such as

  • Systems thinking for transformative change;
  • Scientific integration across disciplinary and system boundaries;
  • Assessing transformational change;
  • Feedbacks and dynamics in complex socio-ecological systems;
  • Bounding systems for sustainability research;
  • Empirical insights on system change;
  • Interacting system interventions;
  • Systems thinking and leverage points;
  • Novelty, system dynamics and sustainability

Abstract submission for this conference closes on 30 June — soon! Submit your Abstract here.


Arnold, Ross D., and Jon P. Wade. “A definition of systems thinking: a systems approach.” Procedia Computer Science 44 (2015): 669-678.


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