But Does It Work? Evidence, Policy-Making and Systems Thinking; Comment on “What Can Policy-Makers Get Out of Systems Thinking? Policy Partners’ Experiences of a Systems-Focused Research Collaboration in Preventive Health”

Document Type : Commentary


Wessex Institute, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK


Systems thinking provides new ways of seeing the world, focusing attention on the relationship between elements in complex systems and the spaces inbetween. Haynes study shows that many policy-makers valued systems thinking as a new way to approach old problems. But they also wanted greater focus on useful policy solutions. This raises interesting questions about the tensions between complexity and simple, action-oriented solutions and how evidence is used in decision-making. Backstage understanding of the complexity of policy problems is matched with the frontstage need to focus on what works. This reflects trends in recent public policy for evidence centres providing decision-makers with toolkits and dashboards of ‘proven’ interventions. There are good examples of evaluations using systems thinking allowing for complexity while addressing policy-maker needs to be accountable for public investment and decisions. Strategic communication skills are needed to provide compelling stories which embrace systems thinking without losing clarity and impact.


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