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Systems Thinking in addressing wicked problems

Posted by ST4CHealth on 04 Jul 2013 at 01:59 GMT

We thank PLoS Medicine for this editorial, as it highlights the complex challenges such as obesity faced by today's health professionals, policy makers and planners (1). The issues brought up in this piece - such as the need to manage conflicting interests and to understand which policies work and which do not- exemplify the "wicked" nature of NCDs.
We contend that there is a great need to explicitly acknowledge and consider and apply complexity and systems thinking approaches and methods when considering such wicked challenges. There are a number of frameworks and tools that could assist health policy makers and planners as they struggle to address dynamic health challenges with multiple and varied determinants and possible prevention and treatment options (2,3).  For example, Huang et al describes a "Systems-oriented Multilevel Framework" for responding to the obesity epidemic (4).
We at Systems Thinking for Capacity in Health (ST4C Health) are hoping to facilitate and catalyze the emergence of a stronger network of health professionals interested in learning more about and applying complexity and systems thinking approaches to health. We hope that readers of PLoS Medicine will consider joining us at the following:

ST4C-Health Blog:

This work was supported by the African Health Initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

R. Chad Swanson, DO, MPH
Emily Bennett DDCF Intern

1. The PLOS Medicine Editors (2013) Addressing the Wicked Problem of Obesity through Planning and Policies. PLoS Med 10(6): e1001475. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001475.
2. Swanson, Chad, Adriano Cattaneo, Elizabeth Bradley, Somsak Chunharas, Atun Rifat, et al. "Rethinking health systems strengthening: key systems thinking tools and strategies for transformational change." Health Policy and Planning. no. 54 (2012).
3. Willis et al System tools for system change BMJ Qual Saf bmjqs-2011-000482Published Online First: 30 November 2011.
4. Huang TT, Drewnowski A, Kumanyika SK, Glass TA. A systems-oriented multilevel framework for addressing obesity in the 21st century. Prev Chronic Dis 2009;6(3):A82.

No competing interests declared.