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Characteristics of Complex Systems

High-leverage policies are difficult to apply correctly

Explore CLE lessons that exemplify this characteristic

High-leverage policies are difficult to apply correctly

Complex systems contain areas of high leverage – places where a small push in the correct direction is likely to effect the desired change. In many cases, these high-leverage policies are difficult to identify and difficult to apply correctly. The “levers” for such policies may be pushed in the wrong direction, or not pushed at all.

  • In the case of improving the well-being of urban residents, Jay Forrester, by building and testing a system dynamics model, found that low-income housing is a high-leverage policy. (Urban Dynamics, Jay W. Forrester) Unfortunately, the change needed is to build fewer, not more low-income housing units.


:CCSP Project image options:03b-Camden_NJ_poverty.jpg


  • In arid regions around the world, the natural water supply may vary greatly from year to year. Water that is collected in dams must be divided among competing users. In years of plentiful rainfall, pressure mounts for the “extra” water to be distributed to help boost the residents’ well-being. The most effective policy to maintain sufficient distributions through drought years, however, may be to consistently distribute the minimum.


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