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Systems Thinking in Public Health: Applications of Key Methods and Approaches

3rd term
International Health
3 credits
Academic Year:
2016 - 2017
Instruction Method:
Auditors Allowed:
Grading Restriction:
Letter Grade or Pass/Fail
Course Instructors:
Ligia Paina

Introduction to Online Learning is required prior to participating in any of the School's Internet-based courses. None


Systems thinking, (ST), is a holistic approach to analyzing how components of complex systems interact and adapt. Through systems thinking we can understand how societies organize themselves to achieve collective health goals and how different actors contribute to policy outcomes. The practice of systems thinking includes the ability to integrate multiple perspectives and synthesize them into a framework or model that encompasses the various ways in which a system might react to policy choices.

Provides students with an understanding of how to apply ST in public health. Trains students on the fundamentals of ST theory and offers an opportunity to apply key methods and approaches to health policy and health questions. Prepares students to ask relevant research questions and apply a ST lens to describe, understand, and anticipate complex behavior. Examines how systems models can be critically appraised and communicated with others so public health policy makers can exercise a greater degree of wisdom and insight.

Learning Objectives:

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Identify characteristics of a system
  2. Identify unintended consequences of public health system changes
  3. Critically appraise systems models
  4. Assess strengths and weaknesses of applying the systems approach to public health problems
  5. Use participatory modelling approaches to understand how to engage with diverse stakeholders, how unanticipated consequences emerge, and what to do about them
  6. Use systems diagrams and figures to show how feedback loops might lead to unanticipated consequences.
Methods of Assessment:

Participation (15% = 10% participation in 3 live talks and 5% relevant Discussion Forum entries for each module OR VoiceThread entries)
Self-evaluation quizzes (20% = 4 self-evaluation quizzes + 1 extra credit quiz)
Term assignment (45% = 3 part paper and associated VoiceThread entries submitted throughout the term, each part worth 15%)
Peer assessment (20% = peer assessment of Part 1 and 2)

Instructor Consent:

No consent required