Applying Systems Thinking to a Public Health Issue
For this Discussion, bring to mind a public health program or effort you are involved with
or might wish to design in the future, and consider how systems thinking might enhance it.
Prepare for this Discussion by creating a logic model for this public health program or
effort. Be sure to cite your readings this week to support your argument. Applying Systems
Thinking to a Public Health Issue
Public health practitioners collaboratively attempt to solve complex public health issues
embedded within the societal fabric. Solutions to such problem often require the engagement and
intervention of key stakeholders ranging from regional systems to local entities. Such multi-
participant and multi-level involvement is the center of systems thinking, as a process of the
intern-connected influence of parts within a whole. This paper seeks to explore on the question
on how systems thinking can be used to solve public health issue that occurred during Hurricane
Katrina. While many programs exist to solve the problem, this paper will mainly use the example
of weather forecasting.
The proposed program
Public health is presently incorporating the knowledge of social science just like
sociology did 40 years ago, in uncovering the complexities of ecologically layered societal and
community circumstances, as well as, the various forces within the public health practice (Green,
2006). Since systems thinking is not easy to conceptualize, both the system’s design and analysis
serves as the essential means of describing the systems applicability in public health practice.
Among the most developed trans-disciplinary collaboration and that is primarily oriented
towards systems thinking theoretical context is weather forecasting and modeling. Scientists’ and
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organizations’ networks from around the globe collaboratively work together towards
understanding weather pattern complexities so as to allow timely and accurate weather
This paper proposes a program where weather forecasting and research model groups can
employ a translational model allowing new discoveries made within a field e.g. oceanography to
be linked with other new discoveries from other fields to allow the understanding of complex
trans-disciplinary relationships. Data from different fields can be brought together, models
developed to analyze such data, and optimized models can be developed to disperse derived
information to the public and specific end users who will make good use of such information.
Understanding the relationship between land masses, wind flow, water temperature and solar
activity among other natural forces can be achieved through an intensive and complex
computational modeling of raw data to come up with predictive weather models that can reduce
economic devastation and save lives (Lenaway et al,. 2006). Indeed various universities in
collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have developed and
implemented computerized models that can mold complex environmental data e.g. day and night
humidity differentials and wind activity at different land elevations as a way of developing
improved weather forecasting (Shultz, Russell & Espinel, 2005) However, a critical part of
weather forecasting as a component of systems thinking is passing the information to the public.
Hurricane Katrina will forever serve as a constant reminder of accurate weather
forecasting and analysis that it did not translate to effective use of information. The tragedy of
Katrina was as a result of failed delivery of the systems components (Egan, 2007). Extensive
investigation and data collection from a variety of sources resulted in accurate weather
forecasting that allowed thousands of people to escape the Katrina’s path; however, the local,
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state and federal application of knowledge failed, and the devastating outcome remains a
challenge to systems thinking.
Despite the promise that systems thinking holds for improved understanding of public
health issues, few systems initiatives have been fully developed and implemented. The above
proposed program can be tested and implemented by effective management of shared
knowledge, as well as, effective transfer of such knowledge between different stakeholders in the
systems’ environment. Such management requires sophisticated and comprehensive knowledge
infrastructure based on existing and new knowledge integration.
SYSTEMS THINKING IN PUBLIC HEALTH 4
Egan, M. J. (2007). Anticipating future vulnerability: Defining characteristics of increasingly
critical infrastructure‐like systems. Journal of contingencies and crisis management,
Green, L. W. (2006). Public health asks of systems science: to advance our evidence-based
practice, can you help us get more practice-based evidence?. American Journal of Public
Health, 96(3), 406.
Lenaway, D., Halverson, P., Sotnikov, S., Tilson, H., Corso, L., & Millington, W. (2006). Public
health systems research: setting a national agenda. American Journal of Public Health,
Shultz, J. M., Russell, J., & Espinel, Z. (2005). Epidemiology of tropical cyclones: the dynamics
of disaster, disease, and development. Epidemiologic Reviews, 27(1), 21-35.