Using the System Improvement Process, the Thwink analysis of the environmental sustainability problem decomposed the one big problem into four smaller subproblems. Each subproblem was found to have one main root cause. This raised a critical question: Which root cause would be easiest to resolve first?
One subproblem is How to overcome change resistance? We know what we should do to be sustainable, but we're not doing it or not doing enough of it. That is systemic change resistance, because it's occurring in all nations.
The main root cause of systemic change resistance was found to be low political truth literacy. The high leverage point is to raise political truth literacy from low to high. Once that occurs on an estimated 5% to 15% of a political unit's voters, feedback loop dominance will shift from a dominant Race to the Bottom Among Politicians (where politicians compete to see who can tell the most attractive deception) to a dominant Race to the Top (where politicians compete to see who can tell the most attractive truth about what's best for the common good).
This root cause appears to require much less force to resolve than the other root causes, because it's a straightforward matter of literacy education. The world's education systems have long demonstrated they are well equipped to teach reading, writing, and math literacy. All that's needed is to add truth literacy.
You may have noticed the widespread use of deception in politics to fool voters into voting for what is actually against their best interests. Once truth literacy goes high, that can no longer occur. Exploitation of low truth literacy is the main reason Brexit occurred, is why Donald Trump was elected, and is what numerous authoritarians depend on to get elected and stay in power, such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Victor Orban of Hungary, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. It's also the reason the far right has done so well recently in Europe.
Given these insights, Montserrat Koloffon and Jack Harich designed and ran a study to test pushing on the high leverage point of raise political truth literacy. The study tested how well Truth Literacy Training works on the average voter. Using a randomized controlled design, the study was run on October 2, 2019 on 93 US subjects aged 22 to 51 using three randomly assigned treatment groups. The three groups contained 30, 30, and 33 subjects.
The results are summarized in the image below. The six charts show answer distributions for the "How would you vote?" questions.
Group 1 (the control group) received training on a neutral topic. Group 2 (partial training) received training on how to tell if a political claim was true or false, by spotting the pattern of fallacy or non-fallacy used. Group 3 (full training) received the same training as group 2 plus training on how to vote correctly, given whether a claim made by a politician was true or false.
Chart A is where the average voter is today. Chart E is where we want the average voter to be, for democracy to work and to start solving difficult common good problems like sustainability.
We are most interested in the answers to questions about the Deceptive Statements. The answers should all be 9. But as you can see in chart A, only 2% of voters chose the right answer. The other 98% were fooled. Worse yet, most leaned toward some support for the politician rather than toward opposing the politician. The data shows that deception works, which is why we see so much deception in politics.
The old saying that "You can fool most of the people most of the time" is currently all too true. As long as political truth literacy is low, democracy cannot work as designed because the voter feedback loop is unreliable.
The experiment demonstrated that political truth literacy is easily raised from low to high. The Truth Literacy Training that groups 2 and 3 received took only about one hour online. The results were dramatic. Group 2, which received partial training, showed a large shift toward mostly NOT supporting a politician if the person detected deception as seen in chart C. But still, only 6% chose the right answers. Group 3, which received full training, showed remarkable improvement. 67% chose the right answers as seen in chart E.
A followup study 26 days later found a small decrease in truth literacy for the trained groups. 30 minutes of refresh training increased truth literacy back up to close to where it was before.
Overall, the study collected data that allows an important conclusion. The hypothesis that truth literacy can be raised from low to high by the simple method of Truth Literacy Training was confirmed. This has enormous implications, as it suggests there is a relatively easy solution to resolving the key root cause of the sustainability problem. However, the study needs to be replicated and tested on real world voters before we can say with high confidence that this solution strategy should be pursued.
For a more detailed description of the study please see this paper. For even more information, see the chapter on Truth Literacy Training in the book Cutting Through Complexity.