Navigating systems ideas for health practice: towards a common learning device

Reynolds, Martin; Sarriott, Eric; Swanson, Robert Chad and Rusoja, Evan (2018). Navigating systems ideas for health practice: towards a common learning device. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 24(3) pp. 619–628.



Systems thinking and reference to complexity science have gained currency in health sector practice and research. The extent to which such ideas might represent a mere passing fad or might more usefully be mobilized to tackle wicked problems in health systems is a concern underpinning this paper. Developing the usefulness of the systems idea requires appreciating how systems ideas are used essentially as constructs conceptually bounded by practitioners. Systems are used for purposes of understanding and engaging the reality of health issues, with the intent of transforming the reality into one that is more manageable, equitable and sustainable. We examine some manifestations of the systems idea in health practice and the traditions of systems practice that variously make use of them. This provides a platform for proposing a systems thinking in (health) practice heuristic: a learning device supporting how different tools and methods can address ‘wicked problems’ in health praxis. The device is built on the use of 'conversation’ as a metaphor to help practitioners use systems ideas in tandem with existing disciplinary and professional skills and methods. We consider how the application of the heuristic requires, and helps to develop, human characteristics of humility, empathy, and recognition of fallibility.

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