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Characteristics of Complex Systems

Action is often ineffective due to application of low-leverage policies

Explore CLE lessons that exemplify this characteristic

Action is often ineffective due to application of low-leverage policies

Complex systems contain balancing feedback loops that surround the various goals of the system. Low-leverage policies often seem to be the “obvious” solutions to the problem at hand, but they encounter resistance – the tendency for interventions to be defeated by the response of the system to the intervention. Low-leverage policies are unable to overpower the balancing loops in order to align the competing goals of the system.

  • The US has been fighting a “war on drugs” for decades. Low-leverage policies (seizing more drugs, arresting more addicts) are defeated by the compensating feedback that responds to the intervention. For example, when drugs are taken from circulation, prices go up, along with the incentive to risk importing more drugs.

:CCSP Project image options:02b-399px-NRJUSTSAYNO.jpg

  • In areas where flooding occurs regularly, people build dams and levees to reduce the risk of property damage. Relief costs from flooding have been rising for decades, however, even when population increases have been taken into account. The construction of dams and levees has impeded the natural ability of the ecosystems to shed excess water and has also encouraged further development in flood-prone areas.

:CCSP Project image options:02a-800px-Lake_Mead04.jpg

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