Using systems thinking to drive community changes for better health

Project title: A systems approach for enabling community driven change to improve health and wellbeing

Start date: October 2019

End date: May 2023

What is the issue?

Policies and plans to improve health and wellbeing often use traditional approaches that are  linear and address the obvious symptoms of complex situations. However well-intended, these approaches often don’t work – or make things worse – because they fail to understand the connected, interrelated and underlying causes of the situation.

Systems thinking is an approach that helps us see the big picture of a situation, such as chronic disease, and its underlying causes to more effectively intervene. It offers tools and practices that help engage with the complexity and shift the system to a more desirable state.

In earlier work, we developed a Systems Change Framework, which draws on the diverse field of systems thinking. The framework outlines a structure, process and set of practices for individuals and collaborations to become more familiar with and capable of engaging with complexity to achieve lasting and meaningful change.

This PhD project will test the effectiveness of the Systems Change Framework at the community-level, which may offer an alternative approach to traditional health and wellbeing planning. The aim is to build systems thinking capacity and processes that enable locally driven change to improve health and wellbeing.

How is the project addressing the issue?

We will engage with two Tasmanian communities to test whether the Systems Change Framework is appropriate for supporting communities to take a systems approach, and whether it will help them identify and respond to causes of poor health that are unique to their context.

We will undertake literature reviews and surveys to look at traditional and systems approaches to health and wellbeing at the community level, and position the Systems Change Framework within this landscape.

Relevance for policy and practice

We will deliver policy recommendations regarding approaches to improve health and wellbeing at the community level in Tasmania, including whether the Systems Change Framework is sound enough to support a decision for state-wide implementation.

What are the expected outcomes?

This project will improve understanding of the feasibility and effectiveness of using the Systems Change Framework to improve health and wellbeing in Tasmanian communities. It will show how the Tasmanian Government can support community leaders to identify priorities and actions to improve health and wellbeing.

Project lead

Michelle Morgan, Tasmanian Department of Health


Professor Elaine Stratford, University of Tasmania

Associate Professor Siobhan Harpur, Tasmanian Department of Health

Dr Samantha Rowbotham, University of Sydney

This project is funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, ACT Health, Cancer Council Australia, NSW Ministry of Health, South Australian Department for Health and Wellbeing, Tasmanian Department of Health, and VicHealth.