Systems thinking is a way of understanding and managing complex problems. This unit (HPO6004) 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.

Unit details

Study level:
Credit points:
Unit code:

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.  


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

Where to next?

As part of a course

This unit is studied as part of the following courses. Refer to the course page for information on how to apply for the course.

VU takes care to ensure the accuracy of this unit information, but reserves the right to change or withdraw courses offered at any time. Please check that unit information is current with the Student Contact Centre.