Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Leverage Points" - Hallsmith Chapter

I chose to read Hallsmith’s chapter on Leverage Points (pp. 169-185). I wanted to learn more about some of the strategies to effect change, since overcoming inertia and engaging nonparticipants seemed to be threads running through Tuesday’s class discussion. Leverage points, as defined by Hallsmith, are institutions or actions that can help to spur or solidify a community’s commitment to change. To that, I would add that people can sometimes be leverage points: witness Bogota’s mayor, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., etc. Although their strategies and actions certainly made use of leverage points, I would argue that the people themselves became emblematic of the possibilities for reform.

The main idea of a leverage point is to identify some way to make a relatively small change that will in turn have systemwide impacts. Two examples:

  • Building community spirit around a natural resource (i.e., a watershed or river) by initiating a festival or outdoor classroom that will raise community involvement and awareness around the issue.
  • Identifying nexus points that already involve the entire community in some way or another, to bring a particular issue to light and show how every person is in some way effected. (E.g., Using the public school system and students to bring attention to neighborhood crime.)

As any student of business knows, there is such a thing as negative leverage. Hallsmith stresses that finding leverage points may be relatively intuitive, especially for those who are intimately familiar with the system(s) they are trying to change. However, she cautions that precisely because these points often represent the confluence of many groups or perspectives, and because the issues tend the be somewhat sensitive, applying pressure to the points to effect change should be done intelligently and sensitively.

I would agree with this assessment; it’s clear that issues such as land development, school budgets, and other community matters can just as easily (and probably more often than not) divide as they can unite. But, because they tend to be subjects that elicit strong feelings among stakeholders, a positive outcome can have truly transcendent results.

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