Systems Thinking In Public Health

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Overview

This course provides an introduction to systems thinking and systems models in public health. Problems in public health and health policy tend to be complex with many actors, institutions and risk factors involved. If an outcome depends on many interacting and adaptive parts and actors the outcome cannot be analyzed or predicted with traditional statistical methods. Systems thinking is a core skill in public health and helps health policymakers build programs and policies that are aware of and prepared for unintended consequences.

An important part of systems thinking is the practice to integrate multiple perspectives and synthesize them into a framework or model that can describe and predict the various ways in which a system might react to policy change. Systems thinking and systems models devise strategies to account for real world complexities.


This work was coordinated by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, the World Health Organization, with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. Additional support was provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) through a grant (PO5467) to Future Health Systems research consortium.

© World Health Organization 2014
All rights reserved. The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the World Health Organization concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Dotted and dashed lines on maps represent approximate border lines for which there may not yet be full agreement. The mention of specific companies or of certain manufacturers’ products does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by the World Health Organization in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned. Errors and omissions excepted, the names of proprietary products are distinguished by initial capital letters. All reasonable precautions have been taken by the World Health Organization to verify the information contained in this publication. However, the published material is being distributed without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use. Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health has a non-exclusive license to use and reproduce the material.

Syllabus

Introduction to Systems Thinking and Complex Adaptive Systems
-This module introduces the basics of systems thinking and the rationale for using a systems approach to solve public health problems in complex adaptive systems.

System Conceptualization Using Causal Loop Diagrams
-This module will introduce you to the concepts of causal loop diagrams and how they can be used in participatory research. You will also be introduced to the software Vensim that allows you to draw causal loop diagrams.

System Dynamics Simulation Using Stock-and-Flow Diagrams
-This module will introduce you to the concepts of systems dynamics modeling and will show you how to use Vensim to run a pre-existing system dynamics model.

Practical and policy implications
-This Module wraps up the course and shows you how systems thinking can contribute to policy making.

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