By Maraja Riechers
It was a more random line that Elena Bennett said in her plenary session this morning: “I feel naked without a pointer and presentation, but I will just go with it”. Feeling naked and exposed, in unusual, uncomfortable, honest and authentic situations. Embracing this feeling struck me as important, because today at the Leverage Points 2019 conferences it was all about exploring the notion of deep and neglected leverage points. By deep leverage points, we mean primarily those that tackle the systems design – such as re-defining the goal of the system, its information flow or self-organisation – and those that tackle the intent of the system – changing mind-sets and transcending paradigms.
But what does that mean for us? Digging deep. Transcending paradigms.
For me, it means we have to strip us barren from paradigms that we hold on to, which comfort us, and keep us in a system that is in need of urgent transformation. It means we have to question ourselves, our goals, our dreams and daily routines. It means questionning others. And for us scientists it means questioning our research.
What looking for deep and neglected leverage points definitively does not mean is using the same old paradigms, the same old research methods (that have long been proven valid and reliable), and putting another label on it. It is the end of the world as we know it, as Ioan Fazey repeatedly stated. We need to sit down a moment, take a breath, open your eyes and mind – and acknowledge, with great humility, the changes happening all around us.
This is what we are facing. This is what is currently happening.
And now we need to act.
What I took with me from the sessions and the plenaries, was a need for a passionate, urgent and transformative research, research which focusses on care, justice, trust and real-world impact (not measureable by an Impact Factor). To also ask and answer the questions: From whom can we learn? Whose voice is missing?
There is no magic bullet, no quick fix – and looking for deep leverage points is not offering that. A leverage points perspectives invites you to look deeper, to ask difficult questions: What are we trying to achieve here? What are the right things to do? How do we govern? What economic paradigm do we want (and how can we replace our old one)? But just having a good lens to be able to concentrate on those changes does not mean that assessing them, or even finding a leverage point for transformation, will be easy. The leverage points perspective can be an analytical tool, a metaphor or a methodological boundary object to capture the complexity of a system and its wicked problems. It will not provide an easy answer, this complexity defies an easy answer (even though it is tempting when faced with all the complexity). Feeling naked is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, exposing, hurtful, shameful – and maybe we have to actively look for exactly those situations that make us feel naked, to gain more reflexivity, new perspectives, and new knowledge.
Those difficult questions cannot be answered by pure fact-based knowledge alone; we also need to strive for wisdom; To discover a different, deeper kind of truth. And this process may already has great power and great humility. Yet, this process needs extra effort from us because we are working against the current system, and we will experience backlash. We as researcher need to openly confront an academic system (especially in sustainability science) that is hindering us to do impactful transformative research, we need to openly confront an economic paradigm on which our income depends, and we need to openly confront our knowledge system on which our self-identification depends.
Open your mind.
And embrace the feeling.
Maraja Riechers is a PostDocs in the leverage points project here at the Leuphana University. My research focusses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change – all with a leverage points perspective.