Success of systems thinking in prevention - community perspectives
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Deakin University, Australia
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A991
Background and Objective:
Systems thinking is increasingly being used in communities to address some of the world’s most complex public health challenges. A method within systems thinking, community-based system dynamics, helps communities visualise factors and interconnections of complex problems from the community’s perspective, identifying potential action and empowering communities to lead community change. While there are numerous descriptive examples of community-based system dynamics in the literature, there are fewer examples documenting evaluation. This study aimed to understand success of community-based system dynamics in public health practice and implementation factors that influence success, from the perspective of practitioners (health professionals) and participants of community-based system dynamics approaches.

Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with health professionals, organisational public health leadership and community members that took part in community-based system dynamics case studies in rural Victoria, Australia. Interview questions were derived from the constructs of Community Coalition Action Theory and Complexity Theory.

Inductive thematic analysis was used to group and theme data from interviews. Themes related to success and implementation drew on constructs of Community Coalition Action Theory (stages of development; community context; lead agency or convening group; coalition membership; processes; leadership and staffing; structures; member engagement; and pooled member and external resources) and Complexity Theory. The outcomes of the analysis identified interactions between descriptors, feedback loops and unintended consequences.

This study helps us to understand success of community-based system dynamics in practice, including implementation factors that influence success. More evaluation examples of community-based system dynamics are needed. These findings advance systems thinking practice in public health by informing evaluation and measurement of effectiveness in the community setting. This study helps us understand how and why existing practice influences outcomes in the community.

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