Gaining Leverage in Dealing with Social Problems

Social changers and activists of all sorts usually have fewer resources tghatn they would like. They all want their efforts to be successful! Maybe a complete success – a ban on private firearm ownership in the United States – is not realistic. The same group could pursue other ways to reduce gun violence.

What to do?

Well, a good case could be made for finding a “lever” to use on the problem of gun violence. The lever will give more results for a given level of effort. Not all levels will be equal. The trick is to find the right lever.

I’ll use a real-world example of using leverage on a problem to illustrate a process anyone could copy.Jeffrey Sachs, in The End of Poverty, examined evidence about the root causes of persistent poverty in much of Africa. Exploitation by colonial powers, exploitation by multinational corporations, disease, and government corruption all get some of Sach’s attention. But, he chooses to focus on disease. This leads

to the obvious question” What common diseases contribute disporportionately to poverty in Africa? One might conclude that AIDS is the worst disease; evidence seems to suggest that malaria is an even bigger drain on Africa’s financial and human resources.

What do we do about malaria in Africa? What project or program would have the most impact on rates of malaria infections? That program would give us maximum leverage in fighting poverty in Africa.

The preceding example suggests that finding a point of leverage can be done as follows:

1. Specify the problem that you want to address – you probably did this already
2. Identify general factors that seem to contribute to the problem in question
3. Identify specific, narrow factors within whichever factor or factor seems especially important
4. Determine the relative impact of each specific factor
5. Pick the specific factor that (ideally at least) contributes the most to the problem
6. Devise a strategy for mitigating that factor, one that is safe and realistic.

What does “realistic” mean? That topic will have to wait for another post.

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~ by chetdavis on October 3, 2007.

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