Systems Intelligence Part 4 : Alternative Models

By Andy Thomson, enkel & Holonic

This is part 4 of a seven-part series about ‘systems intelligence’. The case for transcending typical systemic approaches to developing a regenerative economy. The other parts are here: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7

In this instalment I will compare alternative approaches to our linear extractive economy.

Of the numerous theoretical and practical systemic initiatives that have appeared in response to explain or propose solutions to the systemic challenges a described in part 3 of this blog series, most appear to align with one of two broad categories of approaches, referred to as either the “reformist” or the “revolutionary”.

Tables 1a, b, c and d outline each approach using their perceived overarching strategies looking through the 3D Systems Intelligence Lens as I introduced in part 2.

Here, Donella Meadows’ 12 Leverage Points are used to juxtapose the intervention strategies of each approach grouped around intent, system design, feedback control and physical and parametric considerations.

Donella Meadows’ 12 Leverage Points to Bring Change to a Complex System

I’ve used Meadows’ seminal work as it looks at the full spectrum of intervention possibilities in relation to complex systems such as our economies. For clarity, relevant subcategories which include the CLA levels discussed in part 3, as well as considerations from Frank Geels and his team at the Sustainable Consumption Institute at University of Manchester, have also been included in this structure. The Leverage Points are listed in descending order of Meadows’ perceived effectiveness; the list starts at Leverage Point 2. Leverage Point 1 will be discussed in blog post 6.

Table 1a Comparing “Intent” Leverage Point strategies.
Table 1b Comparing “System design” Leverage Point strategies.
Table 1c Comparing Feedback control Leverage Point strategies.
Table 1d Comparing Physical and parametric Leverage Point strategies.

Based on these findings, table 2 summarises some of the observed major strengths and weaknesses for each approach.

Table 2 Comparing strengths and weaknesses.

Figure 1 below shows how some of the more well-known initiatives could be distributed across a scalability and reformist-revolutionary quadrant. This matrix has been developed to visually show the main strengths and weaknesses and to highlight that in reality, we see more of a continuum between the two approaches.

Scalability is based on data from Google Trends, that looks to show internet growth/exposure whilst the positioning on the reform — revolutionary continuum is based on perception, derived from initiative literature.

The Circular Economy has been used as an example to show which initiatives have influenced it, and how it has the potential to shift or be pulled in one direction or another.

Figure 1 Reformist-revolutionary against scalability quadrant

In blog post 5 i will look at how we might transcend the reformist and revolutionary approaches.

Collective in Perth, Western Australia with the mission to create a new generation of changemakers.