Scriptapedia/Action Ideas

Action Ideas

This script is used to identify and prioritize actions after a model has been developed.


Best practices

Primary nature of group task



Preparation time: 5 minutes

Time required during session: 30 minutes

Follow-up time: 30 minutes


  1. Sheets of office paper (enough for 5-8 sheets per participant)
  2. One dark thick-tipped marker per participant
  3. Blue “painters” tape for creating the wall and labels for the axes on the wall


Causal loop diagram or stock and flow diagram


Prioritized list of potential actions

Nature of facilitators

  • Facilitator experienced in small group facilitation and familiar with Meadow’s (1999) paper on leverage points
  • Co-facilitator/ Modeler who is able to organize the ideas on a wall
  • Recorder to take notes on the ideas being suggested
  • Reflector to reflect on observations back to the group


  1. Ask groups to take 10 minutes to identify as many actions as they can that could impact the model from the previous exercise.
    • "What I would now like you to do in each group is take 10 minutes and use the diagram to help you identify as many possible actions to improve this system as you can."
    • "There are a number of places you can intervene in the system (adapted from Meadows), in order of effectiveness:
      • Variables (lowest)
      • Connections
      • Rules that govern the connections
      • Goals in the system
      • Mindset (highest)"
    • "You can develop interventions that impact variables directly. For example, you could come up with a way to decrease [variable 1; e.g. parent stress]. This may be the least effective way to intervene because it is only fixing a symptom in the connection circle. [variable 2; e.g. gangs] contribute to [variable 1] in the connection circle, and efforts to reduce [variable 1] would only have a temporary effect since the diagram suggests that [variable 2] would continue to contribute to [variable 1]. While addressing symptoms may not have the highest impact in a system, it is important to remember that they can still be beneficial."
    • "You can also develop interventions that impact a connection. For example, you could come up with a way to help increase [variable 3; e.g. healthy meals], by impacting [variable 1]. Doing this would change the system by weakening the connection from [variable 1] to [variable 3]. Ultimately, this type of intervention might eliminate the connection altogether."
    • "You can also consider interventions that create or strengthen a connection. For example, creating an intervention that is designed to help [variable 4; e.g. schools] more effectively address [variable 2; e.g. gangs] would strengthen the connection from [variable 4] to [variable 2]."
    • "You can also come up with interventions that impact the rules that govern the connections such as the rules [insert policy intervention; e.g. regulate what foods a corner grocery store can sell]."
    • "You can also address the goals in the system. [Insert example goal in topic system; e.g. examples of goals in the obesity system could be fitting into clothes, lowering stress, and eating healthy foods]."
    • "And finally, you can develop interventions that aim to change mindset. [Insert example of changing mindset; one such example of changing the mindset from the obesity example could be changing how people view the cause of obesity from “parents just don’t know how to cook” to “parents are too busy trying to make ends meet with their work and don’t have the time to plan meals, shop, and cook.”]"
    • "There are many different types of actions you can come up with but they should all be focused on [topic]."
    • "For each action, I want you to write a name that identifies the action on a sheet of 8.5x11 paper."
    • "Since we will be posting and organizing each action, write only one action per sheet of paper and please use the large thick markers."
    • "Specifically, look at the diagram and identify places where you might intervene.[Give example; e.g. In the obesity example, we might try to implement a program to decrease the consumption of unhealthy snacks and call this intervention “Providing healthy snacks at church.” We would then write the name of this (“Providing healthy snacks at church”) on one sheet of 8.5x11 inch paper using the markers.]"
    • "After 10 minutes, I will ask you to share in a round-robin fashion the results of your list of actions by going to each group and asking you to share your most important action."
    • "For each action, I want you to do the following when you share out with the group:
      • (a) describe the action,
      • (b) identify where it would impact the model,
      • (c) identify how easy or hard it is to implement, and
      • (d) if successfully implemented, how much impact might this have on the [topic]."
    • "You will have 10 minutes to complete this task."
  2. Participants are given a 1-minute warning and told to sort their actions from the most important to the least important.
    • "We’re about to finish. Please complete your last action before we get started again in the large group."
    • "Please sort your actions from the most important to least important."
    • "Please stop."
  3. The facilitator then asks groups to share their actions, one at a time and in a round robin fashion starting with their most important action. If another group has already identified that action, then they should select their next most important action.
    • "As we did in the first exercise, I am going to ask each group to only share one action at a time because I want to make sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to share their insights."
  4. The facilitator asks clarifying questions to make sure everyone understands the action and where the action would impact the system by referring to the model, and then asks them to identify where the action should be placed on the wall in terms of workability and priority.
    • "Where do you see this action falling in terms of ease of implementation? How easy or hard would it be to implement this?"
    • "If successfully implemented, what do you see as the potential impact of this action on [topic]?"
      Quadrants for Action Ideas
  5. As each group shares the action, the co-facilitator/ modeler places the action in the quadrant identified by the group, while a co-facilitator or recorder writes the action and draws how it connects to other variables in the connection circle.
    • It is important that the group nominating the action determines where it fits in terms of workability and importance, as well as how it connects to other variables in the system. If other groups have a different opinion on where the action fits, they can nominate the variable on their turn.
  6. Reflect back to the group your observations about the potential actions.
    • Actions that are easily workable and high priority represent “low hanging fruit."
      List of Action Ideas
      Actions that are hard and high priority represent areas where funders, policy makers, and researchers may be able to help in understanding or modifying the barriers to implementing high priority ideas.

Evaluation Criteria

  • The exercise has led to a rich list of potential actions prioritized by the ease of implementation and potential impact
  • Participants have high energy and express enthusiasm in finding potential solutions
  • The group has developed a shared understanding of each intervention and how it maps into the system




Originally based on an Action Ideas activity used outside of group model building and developed into a group model building script as part of the Rise, Sally, Rise project sponsored by the Ohio Department of Mental Health with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.




Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: places to intervene in a system. Hartland, VT: The Sustainability Institute.


In its current form, the script is generally used after presenting a model in the form of causal loop diagram or stock and flow diagram. While the exercise was originally designed to work with participants studying a connection circle, the activity is much more effective with a causal loop diagram, where participants can clearly see the feedback loops, or a stock and flow diagram, where participants can clearly see the material flows and buffers in a system.

A variation of this exercise will have a modeler adding the action ideas to a model in the modeling software as participants describe how their proposed actions will impact the system. Another variation would be to make little reference to Meadow's leverage points for those with little background in System Dynamics. Nonetheless, a short introduction to those ideas to help them evaluate the impact and priority of the actions can be useful.