Project co-lead Dr Therese Riley told the World Congress on Public Health that communities involved with Prevention Tracker had experienced some of the benefits of systems tools and methods to map the relationships between people, organisations and networks who were working to improve the health of the community.
As a result, they had identified ways of strengthening their local prevention system that they could not have predicted before the research began.
For example, one community is now working on how to better engage diverse voices in prevention, and another on ways to strengthen and improve collaborative practice to reach across traditional silos.
“By first describing and better understanding how the prevention system works in local communities, we derive new insights that enable us to create opportunities for change in a local system,” said Dr Riley, a Senior Research Fellow with the Prevention Centre.
“It’s about creating new knowledge and insights in the context in which that knowledge can turn into action. The group processes have identified a local problem we couldn’t have predicted – the systems approach privileges insights into the system.”
Prevention Tracker is a national initiative working with four communities across Australia – Albany in WA, Glenorchy in Tasmania, Broken Hill in NSW and the Gold Coast in Queensland – to describe, guide and monitor systems change at community level.
Working with partners and a local advisory group, Prevention Tracker researchers implement a suite of data collection and analysis methods to identify the nature of the local workforce, which organisations are involved with prevention action, and how they are connected and share information. They also develop a community snapshot and do data synthesis with local prevention practitioners and experts, interpreting data to find connections.
Once the prevention system is mapped, the systemic or underlying issues that enable or constrain prevention efforts often become clearer to communities, Dr Riley said.
They choose a critical problem, which is then further interrogated through group model building to identify where actions can be taken. For example, developing a causal loop diagram in one community enabled them to focus on feedback loops to achieve change.
She said community partners were immediately focused on aspects of the systems that they saw as critical in affecting change. “They have the knowledge and expertise at the front line – it’s about how do we surface that and learn from it,” Dr Riley said.