Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening

Flagship Report: "Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening"

The Alliance 2009 Flagship Report, “Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening” asked: how can we start thinking in “systems” in order to strengthen them? How can we better understand the effects an individual intervention may have on the overall health system? And how can we evaluate our efforts given the inherent complexity of systems and the way interventions affect the various building blocks of a health system?

This Report offers a fresh and practical approach to strengthening health systems through “systems thinking”. It can be considered a primer on this topic, offering simple yet profound explanations of complex issues from designing system- oriented interventions to evaluating their effects. As investments in health are increasingly directed to health system strengthening, this Report helps to understand better not only what works but what works for whom and under what circumstances.

The Report was launched at the Global Forum for Health Research in Havana, Cuba in November 2009, supported by a range of promotional materials, including a six-page brief for policy-makers. More than one hundred people attended the launch, with hundreds of copies disseminated during the event. Since then, the Alliance Secretariat has received several requests for presentations on the topic and strong demand to collaborate on moving this kind of “thinking” forward. The Report has already been cited in instrumental publications and high impact journals and “systems thinking” is indeed becoming a widely accepted approach in both understanding and strengthening health systems.

In response to the interest spurred by this Report, the Alliance undertook two initiatives aimed at promoting systems thinking in public health. The first was a special issue in Health Policy and Planning entitled: “Systems thinking for health systems strengthening in LMICs: Seizing the opportunity”, published on 27 September 2012. More here.

The second initiative was the joint issue of a Call for Papers by the Alliance and the International Development Research Centre, Canada, with a specific focus on advancing methodologies and approaches for using systems thinking for equitable health systems strengthening in LMICs. The resulting papers will contribute to a new peer-reviewed journal supplement on systems thinking to be published in 2014. More here.