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This content is taken from the Coventry University's online course, Understanding Systems Thinking in Healthcare. Join the course to learn more.

Why map the healthcare system?

Mapping the healthcare system creates a foundation upon which conceptualisation, strategic decision-making processes and interventions can be based. It can also simplify complexity by helping us to identify and understand problems.

In short, healthcare system mapping enables us to see the big picture and appreciate the full complexity and dynamic interactions within it.

The benefits

Systems mapping:

  • Helps us to understand complexities and provide a (visual) basic structure of a system
  • Identifies components/elements of the whole system, their purpose/function, interconnections, interactions and boundaries
  • Makes it easier to communicate the complexity of a system
  • Helps with initial thoughts and analysis by challenging assumptions
  • Identifies root causes of problems and gaps in knowledge, needs, and services
  • Helps to gauge the levels of interests, power and influence of different actors in the system and their impact
  • Helps with identifying and predicting pathways that promote change
  • Helps to understand feedback loops, leverage points and identify opportunities for intervention (policy and innovation)

Your task

Consider the following quote and the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant:

‘None of us see the system. We see our own part based on our own background and history. And we all think we see the most crucial part’ (Senge cited in Johnson, Papi-Thornton and Stauch 2019: 18)

Image representing the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant

Click on image to expand size.

Now, share your thoughts on the following questions:

  • Has there been a situation where you initially perceived only one or few components as the ‘whole’ system?
  • How did you realise there are other components you did not consider?
  • Do you think system mapping could have helped you see the system in its entirety at the beginning? How?

References

Johnson, A., Papi-Thornton, D., and Stauch, J. (2019) Student Guide to Mapping a System [online] available from http://mapthesystem.sbs.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Student-Guide-to-Mapping-a-System-1.pdf [22 April 2020]

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Systems Thinking in Healthcare

Coventry University