A prevention system: Even more than the sum of its parts


Status completed

Start Date

End Date


Understanding and improving systems for preventing lifestyle-related chronic diseases

Project title

What is the issue?

Policymakers and planners across Australia have responded to the prevention of the epidemic of chronic disease by producing a large number of frameworks, strategies and action plans to further whole-of-society and whole-of government approaches that recognise the numerous biological, social, physical, cultural and economic factors that are at play.

While there are frameworks to support strengthening health care systems, there are no clear frameworks for describing, assessing and strengthening effective systems for chronic disease prevention.

How did the project address the issue?

Through a comprehensive literature review, we reported on current thinking regarding key attributes of effective systems for chronic disease prevention. Based on these findings, we drafted a framework to describe and assess systems.

What were the outcomes?

This work generated scientific insights into systems for chronic disease prevention. It resulted in a definition of a prevention system as: “diverse entities at multiple levels in unique and ever-changing contexts due to dynamic relationships among entities and actions”. The project also saw the development of a visual representation of the definition and the attributes of a system for chronic disease prevention.

These insights will help inform action and decision making for investments in prevention efforts to achieve effective, efficient and equitable outcomes for Australians.

What is the relevance for policy and practice?

This program of work improved understanding around applying a complex systems perspective and provided recommendations about how to strengthen systems for chronic disease prevention in Australia.


Other resources

  • June 2014: Mapping the preventive health workforce Download the report (PDF, 900KB)
  • July 2015: Systemic inquiry: A system for the prevention of chronic disease in Australia, scoping workshop report Download the report (PDF, 1.7KB)


Other publications


  • Baugh Littlejohns, L, Wilson, A, Wutzke, S. Developing an Australian framework for describing, assessing and strengthening prevention systems. Public Health Prevention Conference 2018, Sydney.
  • Baugh Littlejohns, L, Baum, F, Lawless, A, Freeman, T. “Whose job is it to lead health promotion?” A systems thinking perspective. Public Health Prevention Conference 2018, Sydney.
  • Baugh Littlejohns, L, Baum, F, Lawless, A, Freeman, T. A “poisoned chalice”? How systems thinking was useful to study key factors that influenced health promotion in Australia. Canadian Public Health Association conference 2018, Montreal.


Project team


This project was funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Ministry of Health, ACT Health and the HCF Research Foundation.