Systems thinking, Outcomes thinking and measuring change

Systems Thinking

There are some exciting changes taking place in health promotion and prevention locally, across Victoria, within Australia, as well as internationally. This will take place over some time, but is likely to influence the way agencies work over the next few years.

The following information is from the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre

The causes of chronic diseases are complex and varied. Many interconnected factors contribute to the decisions people make about their behaviour, including their background, their environment and their ability to make healthy choices.

This complexity means we need a new way to tackle the problem of chronic disease. To effectively prevent complex chronic health problems in the long term, we need to recognise the role of social, economic and environmental factors and how each of these interacts. This requires a systems approach.

A system is a set of interrelated parts that form a whole. A system is not the sum of its parts, but rather the product of their interaction.

Systems thinking is way to make sense of a complex system, by exploring the relationships, boundaries and perspectives in a system. It can help us approach otherwise unmanageable problems by providing:

  • A different perspective (seeing all parts, and their interconnections)
  • Tools and methods that can be used to explore the system, keeping in mind the dynamic nature of the parts and their relationships.

Systems approaches are the specific tools and methods we can use to better understand the system and the complex problems within it. They are particularly useful because they do not require us to know everything about the system before engaging in problem-solving activities.

To change health behaviour, we need a range of governments, organisations and individuals to work together in a coordinated way to attack the problem from many different angles and in dynamic, flexible ways. Applying systems thinking and systems approaches enable us to create an environment that supports people to make better health decisions and avoid chronic disease.


New to systems thinking? Extending your systems thinking practice?

This report provides synthesis from sessions at the Changing Systems, Power and Potential workshop held in Canberra in March 2020. It includes easy to understand explanations of some really helpful concepts. Insights from the sessions have been organised by the following categories:

  • Defining the system (what does systems change mean?)
  • Leading for systems change (including hold the space for others)
  • Learning for systems change (including useful evaluation methods and frameworks)
  • Practice library (further reading recommended by presenters and participants)

Outcomes thinking

Outcomes focussed planning is based on first identifying the outcomes or changes that you would like to see, THEN developing actions to attempt to bring about the change.

East Gippsland is proud to be providing leadership in the way that this theory is applied to the field of prevention. The East Gippsland Well Placed for Wellbeing Plan has been developed using this theory. An action plan will be released in early 2018.


East Gippsland Measuring Change Framework

The East Gippsland Primary Care Partnership have developed this framework, in conjunction with many of our partners, over the past 2-3 years. This framework aims to support those wanting to develop a plan, focused on health and social outcomes we want to see in our community and identifying what clear and meaningful action is needed to achieve them.

We have found this framework:

  • Focuses on measuring and changing outcomes
  • Lends itself beautifully to embedding systems thinking in planning and reporting
  • Makes collaboration much easier
  • Means everyone is working towards the same things, at the same time
  • Encourages action and planning to happen simultaneously
  • Gives meaning to everyone's contribution, no matter how large or small.

Examples of this framework in use can be found in the work of the: