Where and when to intervene?

A nice summary of key insights emerging form Leverage Points 2019

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Josie Chambers

The uphill struggle for a more sustainable future can seem endless. The leverage points framework seeks to inform where and when to intervene to help gather momentum to truly transform old systems into new systems – rooted in different interwoven intents, designs, processes and outcomes. During my journey home from #leverage2019, I had the chance to reflect on some key insights from a fascinating session on where and when to intervene:

1. System structures and designs facilitate material flows and feedbacks that lead to particular outcomes over others. These processes both emerge from and actively reinforce certain deeply held paradigms.

2. For example, Per Olsson showed how rapid transformations occur both in the name of sustainability (e.g. expansion of linked protectionist conservation paradigm and natural park system) and in the name of development (e.g. expansion of neoliberal economic paradigm of growth and deregulation/privatization efforts).

3. Given these…

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Dancing with the system

Another post on #leverage2019 by Maraja Riechers

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Maraja Riechers

I am exceptionally bad at navigating. When I come out of a restaurant after dinner I occasionally do not remember where I came from and I even can get lost in my home town (which at one point had more cows than people). What is more, complexity often overwhelms me. Not, that complexity is something negative, and complexity does not need to be complicated. But sometimes it is just a bit, well, a bit too much for me.

Being exposed to all the information, warnings, pitfalls, details, conceptual and theoretical nuances, disciplinary expert knowledge and jargon, I feel immensely incapable of coping with its totality. Rather, I am acutely aware of my own knowledge gaps, shortcomings and limitations. In this chaos I am looking for perspectives that show me patterns, structures, something that helps me acknowledge the messiness, yet giving me tools to handle it (be it…

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Your journey to inner transformation

Another wonderful summary of a great session by Zuzana Harmackova

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

By Zuzana Harmackova

When it comes to transformations towards sustainability, focusing on policies, strategies and actions is not enough. What we need equally importantly are the deep, individual leverage points of transformation– those related to Inner Transformation.

Remember reading all the cool conference blogs? Now imagine you get the chance to write one… and what is more, at a conference on a really exciting topic – the Leverage Points of transformation towards sustainability. There is one problem, though. You are a terrible writer.

The session on Inner Transformation is your number one choice (you feel that this is exactly what you need). You are waiting for the start, in a room packed with people just as curious as you are. While the session chair Stella Veciana does a great job demonstrating that a raised hand means a signal for silence (a skill mastered by all of us later during the…

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Feeling naked

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

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…

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NEW PAPER: Navigating protected areas networks for improving diffusion of conservation practices

Ecosystem Services Laboratory - Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania

Circa one year ago we had a phone talk with Laurentiu Rozylowicz where he presented his idea to approach the Natura 2000 network through network analysis; within such an approach the protected areas could be the nodes and the shared species are the edges (connections) between them. If we consider species as ecological information about a given biological entity, then addressing the protected area network of a country through network analysis could help in identifying those protected areas which are ecological information hubs (protected areas which are best positioned for an efficient knowledge transfer and diffusion of information within the network). If a protected area is such a hub, this could represent challenges and opportunities for the administrators of these sites as well as for the local communities (e.g. for brand, landscape labeling).

Quite fast after that talk, the manuscript was developed by analyzing 389 Sites of Community Importance (SCI…

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University leadership: why I`m not good at it

Ponderings on university leadership positions by Tibor Hartel.

Ecosystem Services Laboratory - Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania

In the recent past I was proposed for leadership position in an academic institution. The proposal came from colleagues and the actual leader of that group, therefore I felt honored. Below I mention the main arguments used by colleagues to convince me to accept the invitation, and also my responses to them for why I will not accept it. I share them here with the hope that these can be helpful to someone, in whichever sense.

Argument 1.’ You have many publications therefore you know how science works.’

My reaction: Having several scientific papers is not a guarantee for good leadership (I am tall but am not a good basketball player).
Within the Romanian academic context, having a formal leadership position such as being department director or dean or similar, requires an increased administrative activity. For example if I am in an administrative type of meeting I loose…

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Can a transdisciplinary PhD contribute to transformative change?

Social-ecological systems Scholars

This is the fifth post in the series on ‘Transdisciplinary PhD Journeys’.

My name is David Lam. I am a PhD student at Leuphana University Lüneburg Germany in the research project ‘Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformations’ and currently a guest PhD researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden.

I am doing research in a transdisciplinary case study in Southern Transylvania, Romania. I aim to make my research in Transylvania useful in two ways: First, to better understand a sustainability problem in a specific context. Second, to contribute to possible solutions. We are working with a network of approximately 30 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which try to foster sustainable development in the region by, for instance, supporting small-scale farmers, conserving the cultural heritage, or protecting the unique landscape with its  high biodiversity value. With my PhD research, I want to understand how these inspiring NGOs increase their impact…

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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?


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?

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

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

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…

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