IMC Colloquium Series: "Systems Thinking for Health Systems Renewal"

Friday, September 18, 2009
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. Allan Best
Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver General Hospital


Health policy and health organisation leaders are emphasizing the importance of evidence when searching for new ways to tackle complex public health issues (such as obesity and health inequalities) and address enduring organisational challenges (such as safety, efficiency and patient-centredness).

Yet, how we think about the challenge of moving from evidence to policy, or from evidence to organisational change, profoundly shapes the ways we work and the results that we get. Today, our ways of thinking are changing fundamentally, as we come to understand that our health systems are complex systems, demanding fresh conceptual models, more integrative research methodology, and organizational forms that nurture and support evidence-informed decision making. We need more interdisciplinarity, more systems thinking, more problem-based research, and some serious restructuring of the ways in which universities, research funders, and health service organizations are designed. If this systemic change is stifled, we risk never realizing our potential for creating and using knowledge in a collaborative way, and we commit an injustice to the populations we serve.

Imagine a system in which researchers, decision makers and practitioners work collaboratively throughout the full knowledge creation, synthesis, and application process. Think about how tenure and promotion policies might change if contributions to social good were valued as much as contributions to knowledge. Reflect on how knowledge from randomization and experimental control might be balanced by real-world data and learning from practice. Ask what it will take to develop new analytic methods that capture the dynamic, multilevel nature of change as health systems work to continuously improve.