Sense-Making, Mutual Learning and Cognitive Shifts When Applying Systems Thinking in Public Health – Examples From Sweden; 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


1 Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME), Medical Management Centre, SOLIID, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

3 Stockholm Gerontology Research Centre, Stockholm, Sweden


It is widely acknowledged that systems thinking (ST) should be implemented in the area of public health, but how this should be done is less clear. In this commentary we focus on sense-making and double-loop learning processes when using ST and soft systems methodology in research collaborations with policy-makers. In their study of policy-makers’ experiences of ST, Haynes et al emphasize the importance of knowledge processes and mutual learning between researchers and policy-makers, processes which can change how policy-makers think and thus have impact on real-world policy concerns. We provide some additional examples from Sweden on how ST has been applied to create learning and shared mental models among stakeholders and researchers in national and regional healthcare development initiatives. We conclude that investigating and describing such processes on micro-level can aid the knowledge on how to implement ST in public health.