A leverage points perspective on social networks to understand sustainability transformations: evidence from Southern Transylvania

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Sustainability transformations research increasingly recognizes the importance of local actors and their networks to foster fundamental societal change. Local actors have different types of relations between each other (e.g., sharing material resources, giving advice) through which they jointly intervene in different system characteristics. We conducted social network analyses of 32 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who drive initiatives to foster sustainability in Southern Transylvania, Romania. In so doing, we applied a leverage points perspective by differentiating between relations according to the system characteristic they address, such as the parameters, feedbacks, design and intent of the system. Additionally, we tested for differences of centrality metrics (i.e., weighted degree, betweenness, eigenvector) from NGOs that conduct different actions (i.e., amplification processes) to increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives. Our results reveal several NGOs that have central positions in their networks for intervening in both shallower (i.e., parameters and feedbacks) and deeper (i.e., design and intent of a system) system characteristics. We also identified NGOs that are only central for intervening in specific system characteristics. In addition, we found that specific groups of amplification processes (i.e., amplifying within and out) are associated with the NGOs’ positions in the parameters, feedbacks, and design networks. We conclude that the leverage points perspective in social network analysis has the potential to identify key actors and shed light on the attributes of local actors for intervening in shallower and deeper system characteristics to foster sustainability transformations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)809-826
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 05.2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are deeply grateful and feel privileged to work with all the local actors and organisations in Southern Transylvania. We thank Cristina Apetrei and David J. Abson for inspiring discussion on the topic of the manuscript. We thank Rebecca Laycock Pedersen for the valuable English editing. We thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their critical and insightful comments. This research is supported by the Volkswagenstiftung and the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur (Grant Number A112269). This research draws on work undertaken in a large transdisciplinary research project (Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation). The author(s) acknowledge and thank all project members for their ideas and input in the early stages of this work, even where they are not listed as authors. Full details of project members and their research are available at https://leveragepoints.org . David P. M. Lam has also been supported by a research fellowship granted by the Foundation of German Business (sdw). Andra-Ioana Horcea-Milcu acknowledges funding through the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska‐Curie grant agreement number 840207.

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© 2020, The Author(s).