Skip main navigation

How is the science-policy landscape changing?

Prof Tom Oliver explains how work done in the 1970s on deep leverage points is beginning to significantly influence science policy today.
Photo of rural landscape with electricity pylons in the mid-ground, grass land in the foreground and mountains in the background.
We have seen in this course how genuine solutions to the climate and biodiversity crisis require us to move beyond superficial and narrow thinking. We certainly need technological and economic innovations, but these alone aren’t sufficient, or won’t happen, without deeper change to mindsets and culture.

Such insights have been discussed since at least the 1970s when a pioneering systems thinker, Donella Meadows, suggested that ‘deeper leverage points’ are needed to effectively transform systems (eg, our food, energy or transport systems). According to Meadows, interventions that affect material flows in a system (such as by influencing taxes, subsidies and regulatory standards) are less transformative than deeper changes which influence the underpinning values, world views and goals of actors, who go on to reshape the direction of the system1. Essentially, successfully transforming a system requires going beyond superficial fixes to making deeper changes to our mindsets and culture.

As you saw in Week 1, there are many examples where superficial approaches to transforming systems have been attempted. However, major science-policy initiatives around the world are increasingly recognising the need to work on deeper leverage points involving mindsets and culture, as you saw in Step 1.3

Are we seeing a wider shift in the science-policy landscape, where a focus on deeper leverage points around mindset and culture is becoming the dominant way of framing these issues? Is there a paradigm shift in how we approach environmental problems?

In the next Step, you’ll be able to listen to the discussion I had about this with Gus Speth, a senior environmental lawyer in the USA.


Leverage points for sustainability transformation. Abson, D.J., et al. Ambio, 46, 30-39. 2017

© University of Reading
This article is from the free online

Using Systems Thinking to Tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crisis

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now