Systems Thinking in Public Health

Unit code: HPO6004 | Study level: Postgraduate
(One credit point is usually equivalent to one hour of study per week)
City Campus
St Albans
Victoria University Online


Systems thinking is a way of understanding and managing complex problems. This unit examines how systems thinking approaches, methodologies and tools can be used to understand and find solutions to complex health problems to improve population health and heath equity. The challenges and opportunities of using systems thinking in real-world settings are examined considering the different levels and ways systematic approaches can be used in the practice of public health. The concept of systems thinking in health system strengthening is also explored. Students will use systems thinking methods and tools including participatory modelling, causal loop and stock and flow diagrams to analyse problems, integrate multiple perspectives and to propose strategies and policies to address complex health problems.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Conceptualise systems thinking and the rationale for using a systems thinking approach to analyse and address complex public health problems;
  2. Apply systems thinking methods and skills to gain multiple perspectives on the nature of complex health problems;
  3. Critically assess how systems thinking can be used as an approach to health system strengthening and to improve decision making in the practice of public health; and
  4. Propose policies, strategies and interventions using systems thinking skills to promote efficient and equitable gains in population health including among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


For Melbourne campuses

Assessment type: Assignment
Grade: 10%
Rationale for using a systems thinking approach to analyse and address complex public health problems (500 words)
Assessment type: Research Paper
Grade: 40%
Critical analysis of systems thinking approaches in public health (2000 words)
Assessment type: Workshop
Grade: 50%
Design a workshop to promote the use of systems thinking methods and skills in the practice of public health. (2500 words)

Required reading

Selected readings will be made available via the unit VU Collaborate site.

As part of a course

This unit is studied as part of the following course(s):

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