Health Policy and Planning: Applied systems thinking

20 June, 2021

We have previously noted on HIFA the distinction betwee 'health systems' and 'systems thinking'. This paper in Health Policy and Planning eloquently notes that:

- Advances in applied systems thinking in health policy and systems research have been hindered by an imprecision in terminology.

- Limited examples of applied systems thinking have been highlighted and recognized in research but have not been fully and equally appreciated in policymaking and practice.

- Explicit use of theory, long-term research-policy collaborations and better documentation of evidence can increase the use and usefulness of applied systems thinking in HPSR.

Citation, abstract and a commment from me below.

CITATION: Applied systems thinking: unlocking theory, evidence and practice for health policy and systems research

Aku Kwamie, Solip Ha, Abdul Ghaffar

Health Policy and Planning, https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czab062

Published: 16 June 2021 Article history

ABSTRACT

While systems thinking has been generally acknowledged as important to the field of health policy and systems research (HPSR), it remains underutilized. In particular, systems thinking has been perceived as predominantly conceptual, with fewer applications of systems thinking documented. This commentary makes three key points, namely that (1) advances in applied systems thinking in HPSR have been hindered by an imprecision in terminology, conflating ‘[health] systems approaches’ with complex adaptive systems theory; (2) limited examples of applied systems thinking have been highlighted and recognized in research, but have not been fully and equally appreciated in policymaking and practice and (3) explicit use of theory, long-term research-policy collaborations and better documentation of evidence can increase the use and usefulness of applied systems thinking in HPSR. By addressing these matters, the potentials of systems thinking in HPSR can be truly unlocked.

COMMENT (NPW): HIFA itself emerged from (basic) systems thinking. ‘The development of reliable, relevant, usable information can be represented as a system that requires cooperation among a wide range of professionals including health-care providers, policy makers, researchers, publishers, information professionals, indexers, and systematic reviewers. The system is not working because it is poorly understood, unmanaged, and under-resourced.’ Godlee F, Pakenham-Walsh N, Ncayiyana D, Cohen B, Packer A. Can we achieve health information for all by 2015? The Lancet 2004;364(9430):295-300. https://www.hifa.org/about-hifa/hifa-vision-and-strategy

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org