Registration for Leverage Points 2019 conference is now open

We are happy to announce that the registration for the Leverage Points conference in February 2019 is now open. Emails are currently being sent out to all people who have submitted an abstract.

We had the privilege to read many very interesting and well-founded abstracts. Now we are doing our best to offer you different platforms for enriching discussions, inspiring exchange and playful experiences with the leverage points concept.

We very much look forward to seeing you in Lüneburg in February.

More information on registration and payments can be found on the conference webpage, and you can register and pay directly in the ticket shop.

In search of the magic bullet: Working to find leverage points for sustainability transformation

By Maraja Riechers

I am going to tell you a personal story – the story does not end in a clear moral of the story, and it won’t give you insights into the “how to be a good PostDoc”. It is more a reflection of the joy of challenges.

When I was 15/16 years old, my school ended and we all had to decide which path in life we wanted to take. It was a big celebration with fancy clothes and dinner, and it felt very significant. At the time, I forced myself to decide what I would like to do with my life. There were a few things I did know for sure: I love nature, and learning. Hence, I became one of those: Save the World! Change the system! kind-of kids. And ultimately, I decided that this will be the goal of my life. Saving the world. And as I anyway loved learning, I decided to go to high school to learn more on how I could fulfill my new found destiny.

That was about 15 years ago. And I admit I have not changed too much. The complexity of the system forced me to reconfigure my teenage pride and be more humble. I am now trying to find my small contribution to maybe set in motion a potential change in this world. But generally, the goal is still similar. And I still love learning. For a while now, I have been a PostDoc in a project called “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation”. As suggested by the title, the project aims to change “the system” by trying to find the best ways to combat the social and environmental crises we are currently in. The narrative of my research and that of my team, gives me the feeling that I am finally in the right place. And that I finally have the right tools at hand. A leverage points perspective gives me a vision of which I can be proud. It forces me to look at deeper causes for change and look above and beyond disciplinary boundaries. Further, we work in transdisciplinary projects – where achievements are not merely measured in papers, but in real-world impact. Maybe through co-production of knowledge, maybe by offering connections at the science-policy interface, maybe by giving the people a vision for a better world: Let’s find ways to change the system, shall we?

Boromors system change

And while I definitively get a high five from my 15-year-old me, I do have one issue. This work is personal. How do you maintain a proper work-life balance, when your work is your source of income, your hobby and ultimately one of the things by which you define yourself? I owe it to my 15-year-old self to use the chances I get, as well as I can. And I still love learning, so new research projects and new ideas intrigue me. The pressure to find a silver bullet solution is on… but yet, one does not simply change the system. One does not even simply understand a system. Neither can I do this on my own, nor together with my amazing colleagues (and we are 25 hardworking souls in the leverage points project). But I still want to change the system. And I do want to find leverage points that foster sustainability. In every project I am leading, in every paper, in all transdisciplinary interactions, I am looking for more meaning, for underlying causes, for actual significant change. And to be honest, this is exhausting. Because it is personal. Because I take it personal.

Being a PostDoc anyway comes with a different set of responsibilities: For example, I have Bachelor and Masters students for which I am primarily responsible. And apart from the usual task to teach them how to be a good scientist, I also want to infect them with my enthusiasm. Research is fun because it is useful! Further, PostDocs are responsible for maintaining good team spirit, integration, being a link between the professorial PIs and the PhD students, responsible for outcome, output and good process. Then a bit of teaching, proposal writing and, well… you know the drill.

This is a balancing act with tough prioritizations. The leverage points project 1) aims to change the system, 2) needs meaningful participatory processes with real-world improvements, 3) while it depends on active and responsible PostDocs, 4) while also being subject to the usual academic drill. And this makes me really, really happy. And really, really exhausted. I try to take failures not too personally (which is hard), and try to leave work at the office (which is even harder, because then I occasionally simply don’t leave the office).

There are two small conclusions to my personal story: One, if you want to change the system, try a leverage points lens. It may give you new hope and tools that we actually can change something in this world. You can use it as analytical tool, metaphorical lens and anything in between (and in alternation). And two, when your goal in life and at work become one and the same, it is immensely exhausting at times, but also immensely fulfilling. But we do not have to do this task all by ourselves.

Let’s change the system, shall we?

Transformations’ Deep Change Challenges

By: Steve Waddell, Lead Staff – SDG Transformations Forum

Leading up to the first face-to-face SDG Transformations Forum meeting last September in association with the Transformations2017 conference, I talked with over 80 people involved with what I perceive as a transformations initiative. The key question I asked was “What is holding you back from being even more successful with your transformations work?” Their responses were key to designing our meeting, organizing of the Forum and developing a Theory of Transformational Change (ToTC).

The Forum distinguishes between incremental, reform and transformational change by associating each with different loops of learning as pioneered theoretically by Argyris and Schon (single, double) and extended to triple loop by various theoreticians. Since learning is a core change activity, this definition provides a particularly powerful perspective. Transformational change is distinguished by its depth of challenge to prevailing systems including ways of thinking, assumptions and power structures; it involves re-defining of purpose and system boundaries and structures. Of course there is often misalignment between an espoused transformational vision, and the type of change tools and strategy used.

A thematic analysis of the responses to my question resulted in the following:

  1. Transforming Assessment and Evaluation: Current input-output assessment approaches undermine transformations, which require deep learning; jurisdictionally and project limited boundaries are limiting scale and time of transformation.
  2. Meta-narrative: The current economic-focused stories about success associated with growth and GNP must be displaced with sustainable ones focused on human and environmental well-being.
  3. Innovation: Rather than designing innovation based on some physical technology propelled by financiers, we need to categorically design with integration of the new narrative.
  4. Financing Transformations: The current finance system is highly fragmented between “pots” of money (e.g.: commercial finance, government finance, philanthropy, science funding, sovereign wealth funds) with very inadequate ways of smooth connections for funding the quality and quantity associated with transformation.
  5. Capacity: “Change” capacity efforts are highly fragmented and generally mired in non-transformational change methods and approaches.
  6. Transformational Systems Analysis: We need ways to see the complexity associated with transformation, for purposive transformation efforts. Although mapping and data visualization methods are advanced and advancing rapidly, they are generally under-utilized and still under-developed.

The Forum’s September meeting was organized around these responses, and subsequently the Forum has organized its Working Groups around them. The responses are not seen as comprehensive – for example, “governance” as a transformational challenge is missing; nor are they seen as silos, but rather as mutually inter-acting and informing issues.

This has led to understanding these challenges as “deep causes”, in contrast to direct and proximate causes of transformational difficulties. The Table helps illustrate these.

This distinction is part of the Forum’s evolving ToTC.  Today people refer simply to “theories of change” without distinguishing the type of change they mean. However, given the types of change are very different in terms of dynamics, required tools and activities, this simplistic approach results in muddling of actions. To address this, the Forum is evolving a theory of transformational change, including its relationship to the other types of change. In this, the need to address the deep causes by emerging new patterns of relationships and actions as the basis for transforming systems, is a critical ingredient.  We look forward to further advancing this work at the Leverage Points 2019 conference.


The call for abstracts for the Leverage Points conference is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

Seeking narratives of transformation in Transylvania

By Liz Clarke and Ágnes Balázsi

In an earlier post on this blog, Karen O’Brien describes humans as being simultaneously individuals (particles) and collectives (waves), and that we have individual agency to be leverage points as well as being part of system processes and relationships.

This is very apt for our research in the fertile and biodiverse, but rapidly changing, landscapes of Transylvania, where we have been interviewing change agents or “transformers” who are seeking transformation of livelihoods, food production and their relation to the land, to create not just a sustainable future but a regenerative and meaningful one. The narratives we heard wove together individual insight, innovation and transformation and at the same time revealed deep and emerging connections – to other people and to the landscape in what we describe as a system of social innovation.

We were particularly struck by the diversity of these change agents and the networks of transformations for sustainability that are emerging within the Transylvanian system. These change agents already hold some of the key ingredients for sustainable system change such as: 1) small, but influential local networks of change agents and community; 2) practical pilot projects or individual activities; 3) influential international backgrounds and flow of global knowledge transfer on sustainability; 4) strong sense of environmental stewardship; 5) motivation to act against the dominant mindsets which we argue limit our efforts to achieve sustainability transformation.

From the Leverage Points perspective, these narratives reveal sources of deep leverage — engaging with the deepest of Donella Meadow’s 12 leverage points to intervene in a system:

No. 4: Self-organisation

No. 3: changing the goals of the system

No. 2: changing the mindset out of which the system arises

No. 1: the power to transcend paradigms


But more personally, the interviews and the narratives struck a deep personal chord within each of us, and led to some deep self-reflection.

Liz said: Listening to these stories inspired me and renewed my faith in our (human) ability to change and be changed for the better, as well as admiration for those who are prepared to undertake the difficult and painful process of self-reflection and personal change. Feeling their deep connection to their landscape, I began again to feel the deep tug of my own roots in the landscapes of Australia as well as reinforcing for me the importance of strong international connections and dialogue.

Ágnes said: Each story found fertile ground inside of me and activated something that I was hiding for a long time. I am a potential change agent, but I do not assume my motivations actively and constructively. Interviewees repeated several time “practice what you preach”. The most meaningful was to see that they followed an internal motivation to act, to make their place a better one. It was empowering for me to connect with such potential change agents in Romanian society and to see the opportunities that might appear as a next stage of our research, and of my life.


Hear more about this at the 2019 Leverage Points Conference, February 6-9th.

The call for abstracts is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:


Making new connections for transformations: An early-career transdisciplinary research networking day

Pre-conference workshop – Tuesday, 5th February 2019


We are a small group of PhD and early-career researchers involved in transdisciplinary research who have come together to share reflections, insights and strategies for the challenges we experience in our research. We will be hosting an informal networking day (5 February 2019, starting at 9AM) for PhD and early-career researchers involved in transdisciplinary (TD) research as a pre-conference event associated with the Leverage Points Conference to be held at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany (6-8 February 2019).

We recognise that many young scholars are already involved in numerous other networks, and do not intend this day to be the beginning of yet another formalised, structured network. We would rather just create a generative and enjoyable space for people to build interpersonal relationships and share their TD experiences with one another in a creative and meaningful way. We further see the value of pre-conference engagement in that it speaks directly to a core theme of the conference, namely transformative research practices. The intention of this workshop is to connect with researchers about this theme in a way that provides the basis for enhanced engagement on the topic during the course of the formal conference programme.

The purpose of spending a day together would be to:

Build relationships and get to know each other in an informal, fun, yet focused manner, ahead of more formal conference engagements
Share, through practice, methods for engaging stakeholders and co-producing knowledge
Explore ideas and energy for a network of early-career researchers involved in transdisciplinary research
Provide a space to reflect on transdisciplinary approaches and methods with others
Below is the proposed schedule for the day. We encourage participants to co-create the programme with us, and we will all share our ‘learning intentions’ during the introductory session to facilitate this. We also plan to do some of these activities outdoors and to spend some time in the forest:

09:00 Introduction, welcome and mapping who we are (co-initiating) (1 hour)

Appreciative Inquiry Activity (co-sensing) (1h30 mins)

Dialogue Walks (co-reflecting, presencing) (1h30 mins)

13:00 Light lunch and warm drinksto warm up after outdoor activities (1 hour)

Thinking Council activity (co-reflecting, presencing) (1 hour)

Visual-creative prototyping activity (co-creating) (2 hours)

17:30 Cooking, eating and drinking together (co-evolving) (3-5 hours)

Guiding thematic question: The following overarching question will be used to guide interactions on the day, and we will link this to our formal session in the conference programme where we will discuss this question in more detail: Practicing transdisciplinary research in a complex world: How can we as early-career TD researchers navigate the triple jump challenge of scientific rigour and excellence, societal relevance and engagement, and self-respect and care?

We encourage people interested in participating in this networking day to read our blog seriesin which we introduce and reflect on this ‘triple jump challenge’ experienced by TD scholars.

Process design: We propose using ‘Theory U’ as a process design tool (one of the methods we can share through practice in the day) to hold the activities of the day together, and also as some of the specific tools and activities (there is a suite of associated facilitation tools available on the Theory U website). We will also draw on other methods, and aim to make this a multi-sensory experience for participants. In this way we hope to create an experience where we not only reflect intellectually on our work, but also spend time re-connecting in and with nature, open our hearts, and let our creativity come to the fore! The methods we use are ones which participants could also use in stakeholder engagement and knowledge co-production processes in their own TD work.

Participants: We will already be approximately 12 participants and would like to invite up to 18 additional early-careers scholars from the Leverage Points Conference to join us for the day. We will be capping the numbers at 30 participants to enable meaningful interactions and keep logistics manageable. We plan to circulate an open invite through our networks to join us for selected sessions via webinars.

If you would like to join us in “making new connections for transformations” on this networking day, please send a brief biography and letter of motivation (maximum of 300 words) to David Lam by the 30th September 2018 ( Participation in the workshop is free for early-career researchers attending the Leverage Points 2019 conference (excluding drinks, food, lunch, dinner, transport). If you wish to attend the workshop, but not the conference, please note this in your motivational letter.

Facilitation: The day’s activities will be facilitated by our small group of international TD researchers the ‘TD PhD Journeys’ team, in partnership with PhDs and ECRs involved in TD research at Leuphana University.

‘TD PhD Journeys’ team: David Lam1, My Sellberg2, Jessica Cockburn3, Petra Holden4, and Megan Davies5

1Institute for Ethics and Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research, Leuphana University, Lüneburg; 2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; 3Environmental Learning Research Centre, Rhodes University, South Africa; 4Plant Conservation Unit and the African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town, South Africa; 5Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Emerging ideas for a leveraging conference

by Rebecca Freeth

The Leverage Points conference will be a place to think and talk about Restructuring, Reconnecting and Rethinking for sustainable transformations.  It will also be a place to experience restructuring, reconnecting and rethinking.

Expect the structure of the conference to bear the hallmarks of what works best for sharing knowledge and information.  And anticipate some re-structuring of what you may have come to expect at conferences.  Enjoy opportunities for deeper dialogue and creativity.  We hope this will encourage (re)connecting with each other and, as far as the winter weather allows, with nature.  You’ll find abundant woodland just a few steps from the conference venue at Leuphana University.   From experience, we know that these kinds of reconnection can ignite re-thinking.

In other words, we are designing the conference as a productive place to discuss key concepts for leveraging sustainability transformations, and as a productive place to practice with these concepts – with the hope that the combination enriches our understanding of leveraging change and broadens our ideas for addressing and approaching sustainability transformations.

For this, we will be preparing a “leverage games room” for the conference, in which you can physically experiment with some of Donella Meadows leverage points. We are planning formats of presentation and engagement that lend themselves to meaningful engagement.

Over the last 3 years of the Leverage Points project, we have learned that the concept of leverage points is a useful boundary object. It has epistemic and intuitive appeal to many people. In that way, it can bring together a wide diversity of people and potentially support a more coherent discourse on sustainability transformations, for a more global community. We hope to realize some of these ambitions at our conference. People all over the world are learning important things about leveraging change. This conference is an invitation to keep learning together.  We hope you take advantage of the extended deadline to submit an abstract and join us.


We have now extended the deadline for the submission of abstracts until 15th July 2018 Submit your Abstract here.

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

Deadline extended to 15 July

By Dave Abson

Due to popular demand and academia’s somewhat loose interpretation of the notion of a deadline*, we have extended the abstract submission deadline for the Leverage Points 2019 conference until 15 of July 2018. Please spread this information within your networks.

* Best said by the late great Douglas Adams “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”


Leverage Points 2019: International conference on sustainability research and transformation, Lüneburg, Germany, 6-8 February – Call for abstracts

Humanity sits at a crossroad between tragedy and transformation, and now is a crucial time for sustainability research. Radical approaches are needed in sustainability research and praxis if they are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Inspired by the work of Donella Meadows’ “Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system”, this conference will explore the deep leverage points that can lead to sustainability transformations, asking: how do we transform ourselves, our science, our institutions, our interventions and our societies for a better future?

The conference is premised on three principles: 1) The importance of searching for places where interventions can lead to transformative change; 2) Open inquiry, exchange and co-learning across multiple theoretical, methodological and empirical research approaches; and 3) The need for reflection on modes of research and processes in sustainability research. We hope that this conference will help us move from incremental to transformational change; extend our thinking about complex sustainability challenges and deepen our collective and transdisciplinary research practices.

The call for abstracts is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

You are a Leverage Point!

by Karen O’Brien

Have you ever thought of yourself as a leverage point? Someone who can shift systems in big ways? At the 2019 Leverage Points Conference at Leuphana University, I plan to explain why you – and all of us, for that matter — should think of ourselves as leverage points for systems change. I will encourage you to lay aside your favorite “–ism” and consider your potential to generate change from a wider and deeper perspective, starting with the idea that systems are relationships and that your relationship to nature, to others, to yourself, and to the process of change actually matters. Literally!

As a big fan of Donella Meadows’ 1999 essay on “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” I am particularly interested in working with the highest leverage points. Shouldn’t we all?  Given the challenges facing humanity and the urgency of responding to them, we need to use the greatest leverage that is available to us. This, I will argue, is much more than we think.

Meadows identified 12 leverage points, each of them more powerful than the preceding one in terms of their potential to transform systems. The top three leverage points that she identified were:

  1. The goals of the system;
  2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.
  3. The power to transcend paradigms.

Meadows describes the capacity to transcend paradigms as a basis for radical empowerment. If there is anything that we need today, it is radical empowerment. In my keynote presentation, I will discuss the “three spheres of transformation,” including how they relate to Monica Sharma’s approach to Radical Transformational Leadership. I will then discuss the paradox of paradigms, including how thought patterns influence our “degrees of freedom,” particularly when it comes to systems interventions.

Drawing on insights from my ongoing exploration of quantum social change, I will then explain why and how you matter. If we think of ourselves not as merely individuals (i.e., discrete particles), and not as merely a collective unity (i.e., a big wave), but as both particles and waves, we become more like processes rather than fixed entities. When we introduce consciousness into the picture, including the role of beliefs, intentions, and free will, we may even recognize that we are the individual, the collective, and the system. This gives us tremendous power to transform ourselves, our communities, and our systems.

We are, of course, transforming already, all the time. Yet the current transformations are pushing us towards a world that is unequal, fragmented, homogenized, reduced, and broken, rather than evolving us towards a world of equity, integrity, diversity, coherence, and healing.  When we recognize that the future is a choice, and that the meanings we give to ourselves and our future do actually matter, we may start to see ourselves as the most powerful leverage point that exists and empower ourselves to transform systems in equitable and sustainable ways.


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

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact:

A family friendly conference

By Anne Jo Berkau

Many of the members of organising committee for Leverage Points 2019 have children – from very young babies upwards. As such, we are acutely aware of the support needed in order to work AND care for your children. At this conference it will be us who support you.


Free childcare during the conference sessions

Professional kindergarten carers can take care of your children during day (from 8:00-18:00). Yes, all day! The day before the conference starts, your children can get acquainted with the carers while you are there. You can discuss your children’s special needs and preferences. If you want to know more about the carers beforehand please stay tuned, we will introduce them on our website soon.

Nursing room

We have a quiet nursing room for breastfeeding and pumping.

Napping room

We have a napping room: completely dark and quiet. If your child needs a nap during day time one of our caretakers will watch over your child while it sleeps.


We have a kitchen with the possibility to store food, milk etc. in the fridge and a microwave and kettle to heat baby-food.

Short distances:

All of the childcare facilities we provide are in the same building as the conference. They are easy to access with strollers. All facilities are next to one another.

Food for children

We will supply baby food and food and drinks for older children during the day.

Meet the parents at the conference

You will not be the only parent attending this conference. There will be a special networking event for you organised by Prof. Julia Leventon (details will be provided closer to the conference).

Babysitters during the evening

We can arrange individual babysitters for your children in the evening (and night) if required (costs not covered by the conference).

Special arrangements

We want you to come to this conference! With your kids! We know how much of a struggle this can be, but we will be there to support you! Let us know what you and your children require, get in touch with us.

Please contact me, the conference coordinator, Anne Jo (mother of two sons, 5 and 7 years old)


Learning with and from cases: A case-based Mutual Learning Session at the Leverage Points conference

By Moritz Engbers

Mutual learning is a fundamental aspect in transdisciplinary sustainability research. It is considered to increase the knowledge of participants, and at the same time appreciate the multiple perspectives co-existing in the process. Mutual learning is also one of the prerequisites for the creation of socially and culturally robust knowledge. In order to facilitate and reflect on those learning processes, we will have a case-based Mutual Learning Sessions (cbMLS) as part of the Leverage Points conference. This transdisciplinary workshop format aims to organize mutual learning, knowledge integration and knowledge transfer among people from different disciplines, fields of action and societal domains.

What is somewhat particular to cbMLS is that they are focusing on a single case or a set of cases as focal points of the research. A cbMLS involves case experts, practitioners, scientists, policymakers and further participants that learn from each other, from the case and with the case during the process. It is composed of three phases: 1) the preparation phase consists of forming a research team and writing a case booklet, 2) the case encounter, during which participants are engaged face-to-face in excursions and workshops in order to jointly develop outcomes and 3) the post-processing phase focuses on the dissemination of results. A goal is to support learning from, with and between cases and to develop a concrete outcome – such as policy orientations – for the case study sites.

The cbMLS at the Leverage Points 2019 conference will focus on two cases, one is related to the district of Oldenburg (Lower Saxony), Germany and the other is one is based in Southern Transylvania, Romania. Both case study areas are confronted with intensive landscape changes which have ecological, economic, social and cultural consequences. A focus of the cbMLS will be on reactions and attitudes towards these changes. Pro-active attitudes and beliefs are dependent on perceived agency in both cases. Therefore, participants from both cases will be present in the cbMLS. The session consists of the preparation of a shared booklet at the forefront, an excursion to the Oldenburg district on the day before the conference (5 Feb 2019), further sessions, and a presentation of results on the first conference day (6 Feb 2019).

Examples in which cbMLS have been implemented are the 1st Global TraPs conference, and a project on sustainable family farming practices in Colombia (Ortiz et al. 2018). For further information on the concept of cbMLS see Vilsmaier et al. 2015.


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

For more information please visit:

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: