Complex systems

Public health issues are increasingly described as complex or ‘wicked’ because they are often deeply embedded in the fabric of society and prove challenging to address. Complex systems thinking takes into account the context of public health problems. It considers the various levels on which public health can be addressed (local, regional, national and international), and the range of sectors involved (health, education, housing, leisure, etc.).

The ‘Structure of the obesity system’ map, presented in the Foresight ‘Tackling Obesities’ report, is an example of how a complex systems approach can be used to better understand and address public health issues.

The new Complex Systems Research Programme cuts across Fuse’s new research programmes by aiming to develop initiatives that bridge research, policy and action. The Programme covers a range of topics, including decision making for commissioning, food policy, community care for chronic illnesses, and implementation of Europe’s Health 2020 policy framework.

Its two main themes are:

  • Understanding health systems undergoing transformational change and their impact on populations, concentrating on the new public health system in England from April 2013 onwards
  • Evaluating public health policies intended to improve health and wellbeing.

The Complex Systems research programme objectives are to:

  • Explore the nature of transformational change in complex health systems with a view to identifying the key factors that can aid and sustain change over time 
  • Evaluate the effects on people’s health and health inequalities (the differences in health which persist across society) of the new arrangements for public health commissioning and service delivery in England, including the enhanced role of local government, health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)
  • Assess the effectiveness of tools and techniques used by commissioners to prioritise public health issues, and how any barriers identified may be overcome 
  • Develop a programme of work informing and evaluating UK public health policies.

Our network includes:

Programme Investigators

  • Professor David Hunter - Programme Leader, Durham University
  • Professor Luke Vale - Deputy Programme Leader, Newcastle University
  • Professor Ashley Adamson - Principal Investigator, Newcastle University
  • Professor Susan Carr - Principal Investigator, Northumbria University
  • Dr Emily Henderson - Principal Investigator, Durham University
  • Dr Amelia Lake - Principal Investigator, Durham University
  • Professor Ted Schrecker - Principal Investigator, Durham University
  • Dr Shelina Visram - Principal Investigator, Durham University
  • Ms Sarah Hill - Programme PhD student, Newcastle University

Contact us

If you would like to know more about the Complex systems programme please contact:

Dr Emily Henderson

Principal Investigator, Durham University

email: e.j.henderson@durham.ac.uk