Addressing complexity in chronic disease prevention research

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Pescud, Melanie, Rychetnik, Lucie, Friel, Sharon, Irving, Michelle J, Riley, Therese ORCID: 0000-0003-1444-6890, Finegood, Dianne T ORCID: 0000-0002-0568-0522, Rutter, Harry ORCID: 0000-0002-9322-0656, Ison, Ray and Allender, Steven ORCID: 0000-0002-4842-3294 (2023) Addressing complexity in chronic disease prevention research. Systems, 11 (7). ISSN 2079-8954


There is wide agreement on the need for systems thinking to address complexity in chronic disease prevention but there is insufficient understanding of how such approaches are operationalised in prevention research. Ison and Straw propose that to address complexity, the right balance must be struck between ‘systemic’ and ‘systematic’ paradigms. We examined the nature and characteristics of this relationship in a series of six qualitative case studies of prevention research. Data comprised 29 semi-structured interviews with 16 participants, and online documents. The analysis combined inductive methods from grounded theory with a theoretically informed framework analysis. Systemic and systematic ways of working varied across each case as a whole, and within the dimensions of each case. Further, the interplay of systemic and systematic approaches was described along a dynamic continuum of variable proportions, with greater emphasis on systemic aspects balanced by less focus on the systematic, and vice versa. By expanding the boundaries for exploring prevention research, we gained empirical understanding of the potential and scope of systemic and systematic paradigms for addressing complexity in prevention research. There is inherent value in being more explicitly conscious and bilingual in both systemic and systematic paradigms so that their respective value and strengths may be utilised. Our findings propose a coherent theoretical frame to better understand existing approaches for addressing complexity in prevention research.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.3390/systems11070332
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4206 Public health
Current > Division/Research > Mitchell Institute
Keywords systems thinking, case studies, chronic disease, disease prevention
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