Systems Thinking In Public Health Course Reviews

Systems Thinking In Public Health is a Coursera course authored by David Bishai. This course delves into the application of systems thinking principles in the realm of public health.

Systems Thinking In Public Health Course Reviews
Systems Thinking In Public Health Course Reviews

The primary focus is on understanding and addressing complex public health challenges by examining their interconnectedness and underlying dynamics.

The course begins by introducing the foundational concepts of systems thinking, emphasizing how it differs from traditional linear thinking. It explores the ways in which systems thinking can enhance problem-solving and decision-making in public health contexts. Participants are encouraged to adopt a holistic perspective, considering the various components and relationships within a given system.

Throughout the course, David Bishai presents real-world case studies and examples to illustrate the practical implementation of systems thinking. These examples cover a range of public health issues such as disease outbreaks, healthcare access disparities, and health policy formulation. Participants learn to identify feedback loops, unintended consequences, and leverage points within complex systems to drive positive change.

Key topics covered in the course include:

  1. Introduction to Systems Thinking: Understanding the basic principles and concepts of systems thinking and how they apply to public health challenges.

  2. Causal Loop Diagrams: Learning to create causal loop diagrams to map out relationships, feedback loops, and potential interventions within a system.

  3. Systems Mapping: Developing skills in constructing visual representations of complex systems, which aid in identifying leverage points for intervention.

  4. Unintended Consequences: Exploring how interventions within a system can lead to unintended outcomes and learning strategies to mitigate such effects.

  5. Policy Design and Implementation: Applying systems thinking to the design, implementation, and evaluation of public health policies and programs.

  6. Collaborative Approaches: Understanding the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and stakeholder engagement in addressing complex public health challenges.

  7. Sustainability and Resilience: Exploring strategies to enhance the long-term sustainability and resilience of public health interventions within dynamic systems.

By the end of the course, participants should have a solid understanding of systems thinking principles and how they can be applied to improve public health outcomes. They should be equipped with tools and frameworks to analyze, design, and implement effective interventions within complex public health systems. This course aims to empower participants to think critically and creatively when addressing the multifaceted challenges of public health on both local and global scales.


Course Content:

This course provides an introduction to systems thinking and systems models in public health. Problems in public health and health policy tend to be complex with many actors, institutions and risk factors involved. If an outcome depends on many interacting and adaptive parts and actors the outcome cannot be analyzed or predicted with traditional statistical methods. Systems thinking is a core skill in public health and helps health policymakers build programs and policies that are aware of and prepared for unintended consequences.

An important part of systems thinking is the practice to integrate multiple perspectives and synthesize them into a framework or model that can describe and predict the various ways in which a system might react to policy change. Systems thinking and systems models devise strategies to account for real world complexities.

This work was coordinated by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, the World Health Organization, with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. Additional support was provided by the Department for International Development (DFID) through a grant (PO5467) to Future Health Systems research consortium.

© World Health Organization 2014 All rights reserved. The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the World Health Organization concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Dotted and dashed lines on maps represent approximate border lines for which there may not yet be full agreement. The mention of specific companies or of certain manufacturers’ products does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by the World Health Organization in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned. Errors and omissions excepted, the names of proprietary products are distinguished by initial capital letters. All reasonable precautions have been taken by the World Health Organization to verify the information contained in this publication. However, the published material is being distributed without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use. Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health has a non-exclusive license to use and reproduce the material.

The course Systems Thinking In Public Health by David Bishai on Coursera is divided into 4 modules. Here is a detailed breakdown of the modules:

Module 1: Introduction to Systems Thinking and Complex Adaptive Systems

This module introduces the basics of systems thinking and the rationale for using a systems approach to solve public health problems in complex adaptive systems.

What's included

8 videos  12 readings  1 quiz

8 videosTotal 97 minutes
  • Welcome to Systems Thinking in Public Health3 minutesPreview module
  • Video: Introduction to Systems Thinking1 minute
  • Lecture 1A: Why Use Systems Thinking13 minutes
  • Lecture 1B: Health Systems Applications of CAS: Health Systems Frameworks and the Problem of Implementation20 minutes
  • Lecture 1C: CAS Pathways: The Problem of Scaling Up19 minutes
  • Lecture 1D: Where Systems Thinking Helps: Understanding the Types of Problems, Theories, Methods, and Tools21 minutes
  • Lecture 2A: Systems Thinking In Practice - Understanding and Engaging with Stakeholders7 minutes
  • Lecture 2B: Network Analysis, Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis, and Summary10 minutes
12 readingsTotal 120 minutes
  • Syllabus10 minutes
  • Module Learning Objectives10 minutes
  • The Application of Systems Thinking in Public Health - David Peters (2014)10 minutes
  • When solutions of yesterday become problems of today - Agyepong et al 201210 minutes
  • Individualā€based Computational Modeling of Smallpox Epidemic Control Strategies - Burke et al (2006)10 minutes
  • Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network - Fowler and Christakis (2008)10 minutes
  • Why Model? (Epstein 2008)10 minutes
  • A stakeholder analysis (Varvasovszky & Brugha, 2000)10 minutes
  • Participatory impact pathways analysis: A practical application of program theory in research-for-development (Douthwaite et al. 2007)10 minutes
  • 2007 Anderson - Agent based models for simulating policies in complex systems10 minutes
  • Rwashana AS et. al. System dynamics approach to immunization healthcare issues in developing countries: a case study of Uganda.10 minutes
  • Hyder A (2010) Stakeholder analysis for health research: case studies from low- and middle-income countries.10 minutes
1 quizTotal 30 minutes
  • Quiz Module 130 minutes


Module 2: System Conceptualization Using Causal Loop Diagrams

This module will introduce you to the concepts of causal loop diagrams and how they can be used in participatory research. You will also be introduced to the software Vensim that allows you to draw causal loop diagrams.

What's included

8 videos  9 readings  1 quiz

8 videosTotal 75 minutes
  • Video: System Conceptualization and Mapping1 minutePreview module
  • Lecture 3A: System Conceptualization and Mapping: Introduction to Causal Loop Diagrams6 minutes
  • Lecture 3B: Causal Loop Diagrams: Basic Components10 minutes
  • Lecture 3C: Causal Loop Diagrams: Sources of Data, Strengths, and Weaknesses12 minutes
  • Lecture 4A: Introduction to Community-Based Causal Mapping Workshop12 minutes
  • Lecture 4B: Community-Based Causal Mapping Workshop Part 17 minutes
  • Lecture 4C: Community-Based Causal Mapping Workshop Part 29 minutes
  • Tutorial 1: Developing causal loop diagrams using Vensim15 minutes
9 readingsTotal 90 minutes
  • Module Learning Objectives10 minutes
  • Exploring dual practice and its management in Uganda - Paina et al (2014)10 minutes
  • Advancing the application of systems thinking in health - Rwashana et al (2014)10 minutes
  • Vensim User Manual10 minutes
  • Scriptapedia & Original Scripts for Practice Workshop10 minutes
  • Simplified Variable Elicitation Script10 minutes
  • Group model building using system dynamics: An analysis of methodological frameworks10 minutes
  • Community Based System Dynamics10 minutes
  • Sterman Chapter 5 Causal Loop Diagrams10 minutes
1 quizTotal 30 minutes
  • Quiz Module 230 minutes


Module 3: System Dynamics Simulation Using Stock-and-Flow Diagrams

This module will introduce you to the concepts of systems dynamics modeling and will show you how to use Vensim to run a pre-existing system dynamics model.

What's included

13 videos  11 readings  1 quiz

13 videosTotal 159 minutes
  • Video: System Dynamics Simulation Using Stock-and-Flow Diagrams1 minutePreview module
  • Lecture 5A: Using Stock and Flow Principles for Simulation5 minutes
  • Lecture 5B: Defining Stocks12 minutes
  • Lecture 5C: Flow and Control Variables12 minutes
  • Lecture 6A: Case Example: Application of Stock and Flow Diagrams to Public Health22 minutes
  • Lecture 6B: Advanced Model of Volume and Quality10 minutes
  • Lecture 6C: Advanced Model: Cure and Prevention Model24 minutes
  • Tutorial 2: Tutorial on How To Develop Stock-and-Flow Diagrams Using Vensim13 minutes
  • Lecture 7A: Analysis Using Agent-Based Models: Trying Things Out9 minutes
  • Lecture 7B: Breakdown of the Agent-Based Approach15 minutes
  • Lecture 7C: Case Study of Epidemic Modeling14 minutes
  • Tutorial 3A: How to use agent-based models for scenario-building using Netlogo7 minutes
  • Tutorial 3B: How to use agent-based models for scenario-building using Netlogo9 minutes
11 readingsTotal 110 minutes
  • Module Learning Objectives10 minutes
  • Vensim Model I - Example Stock and Flow Diagram: Technical Quality10 minutes
  • Vensim Model II - Example stock and flow diagram: Quality of services10 minutes
  • Vensim Model III - Performance Based Financing10 minutes
  • Vensim Model IV - Effect of lobying10 minutes
  • Advancing the application of systems thinking in public health - Bishai et all (2014)10 minutes
  • Vensim User Manual10 minutes
  • Sterman Chapter 6 Stocks and Flows10 minutes
  • Module Learning Objectives10 minutes
  • How to do agent-based simulations in the future - Helbing and Balietti (2011)10 minutes
  • Netlogo User Manual10 minutes
1 quizTotal 30 minutes
  • Quiz Module 330 minutes


Module 4: Practical and policy implications

This Module wraps up the course and shows you how systems thinking can contribute to policy making.

What's included

6 videos  3 readings  1 quiz

6 videosTotal 42 minutes
  • Video: Practical and policy implications1 minutePreview module
  • Lecture 8A: How Systems Thinking Can Contribute to Policy Decision Making9 minutes
  • Lecture 8B: Systems Thinking in Top-Down Policymaking13 minutes
  • Lecture 8C: Systems Thinking in Bottom-Up Policymaking10 minutes
  • Lecture 8D: Integration and Summary4 minutes
  • Conclusion Video3 minutes
3 readingsTotal 30 minutes
  • Module Learning Objectives10 minutes
  • Advancing the application of systems thinking in health: why cure crowds out prevention10 minutes
  • Chapter 4 & 13 Colander & Kupers10 minutes
1 quizTotal 30 minutes
  • Quiz Module 430 minutes



As a former student who completed the Systems Thinking In Public Health course by David Bishai on Coursera, I can confidently say that this course offers a transformative learning experience in the realm of public health and systems thinking. Here's my review of the course:

The course content was exceptionally well-structured and comprehensive. It introduced me to the principles of systems thinking and expertly demonstrated how they can be applied to the complex landscape of public health. Dr. Bishai's expertise and passion for the subject were evident in every lecture, making the concepts engaging and easy to understand.

The real-world case studies and examples were a highlight of the course. These practical scenarios illustrated the relevance of systems thinking in addressing intricate public health challenges. I appreciated how Dr. Bishai connected theory to practice, allowing us to see the direct impact of systems thinking on policy formulation, intervention design, and decision-making.

The assignments and discussions were thought-provoking and encouraged critical thinking. Constructing causal loop diagrams and mapping out systems helped me visualize the interconnections and feedback loops that drive public health dynamics. These hands-on activities were crucial in applying the concepts I learned to real situations.

Dr. Bishai's teaching style was engaging and approachable. He made complex ideas accessible to learners from diverse backgrounds. His ability to simplify intricate concepts while retaining their depth was commendable. Additionally, the course fostered a sense of community among participants, facilitating valuable peer interactions and collaborative learning experiences.

The course's emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration resonated with me. The recognition that public health challenges require input from various fields was a crucial takeaway. This aspect prepared me to work effectively in teams that address multifaceted health issues.

I found the course's pacing and workload to be manageable. The materials were presented in a logical sequence, building upon each other to ensure a cohesive learning journey. The flexibility of an online platform like Coursera allowed me to balance my learning with other commitments.

By the end of the course, I gained a strong foundation in systems thinking and its application in the context of public health. The knowledge and skills I acquired have had a lasting impact on my approach to addressing health challenges. This course is not just for public health professionals; it's for anyone who seeks to understand the complexities of our health systems and contribute to positive change.

In conclusion, the Systems Thinking In Public Health course by David Bishai on Coursera exceeded my expectations. It's an enriching experience that equips learners with practical tools and insights to make meaningful contributions to public health using a systems thinking lens.


What you'll learn:

After completing the Systems Thinking In Public Health course by author David Bishai on Coursera, participants acquire several skills:

  1. Systems Thinking: Participants develop a solid grasp of systems thinking principles and learn how to view public health challenges from a holistic perspective. They can identify the interconnections, feedback loops, and dynamic behaviors within complex systems.

  2. Causal Loop Diagrams: Students learn to construct causal loop diagrams to visually represent relationships and feedback loops in systems. This skill aids in understanding the underlying dynamics and identifying potential intervention points.

  3. Analytical Thinking: Learners gain the ability to analyze complex public health issues and identify the root causes behind them. They can uncover unintended consequences of interventions and predict potential outcomes.

  4. Problem-Solving: With the tools of systems thinking, participants become adept at tackling intricate public health problems by identifying leverage points for positive change. They learn how to design interventions that consider multiple aspects of a system.

  5. Policy Formulation: Students acquire the skills to design, implement, and evaluate public health policies using a systems thinking approach. They understand how policies impact various components of a system and can anticipate potential policy-driven effects.

  6. Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The course emphasizes collaboration across disciplines. Graduates of the course are better prepared to work in interdisciplinary teams, communicate effectively with experts from different fields, and address complex challenges collectively.

  7. Critical Thinking: Participants enhance their critical thinking abilities, enabling them to evaluate the long-term consequences of interventions, consider diverse perspectives, and anticipate unintended outcomes.

  8. Visual Representation Skills: Through systems mapping and causal loop diagram creation, students develop the ability to visually represent complex concepts. This skill aids in communicating ideas and insights to diverse audiences.

  9. Resilience and Sustainability: Participants understand how to design interventions and policies that promote sustainability and resilience within dynamic public health systems. They can identify strategies to ensure the longevity and adaptability of interventions.

  10. Innovation: By adopting a systems thinking approach, participants become more innovative in their problem-solving methods. They learn to think outside the box, explore unconventional solutions, and adapt strategies to changing circumstances.

In conclusion, completing the Systems Thinking In Public Health course equips participants with a robust set of skills that enable them to address intricate public health challenges with a comprehensive, interconnected approach. These skills are valuable not only in the field of public health but also in various other domains that involve complex systems and multifaceted issues.



David Bishai is a prominent figure in the field of public health, known for his contributions to research, teaching, and policy development. With a background in economics and public health, Bishai has made significant strides in advancing our understanding of complex health systems and their impact on populations. His expertise lies in applying economic and systems thinking to public health challenges, creating a bridge between these two disciplines to drive innovative solutions.

Bishai's research work often revolves around health economics, health policy, and systems thinking. He has conducted extensive studies on topics such as healthcare financing, cost-effectiveness analysis of interventions, and the evaluation of public health policies. His multidisciplinary approach has led to insights that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, making his work particularly impactful and relevant in addressing real-world health issues.

One of Bishai's notable contributions is his exploration of the role of systems thinking in public health. His course, Systems Thinking In Public Health, available on Coursera, showcases his ability to distill complex concepts into practical lessons that empower learners to apply systems thinking principles to public health challenges. Bishai's dedication to education and his knack for simplifying intricate ideas have earned him a reputation as an effective educator and communicator.

Beyond academia, Bishai's work has also influenced policy decisions and public health strategies. His research outcomes often provide evidence-based recommendations that guide policymakers in making informed choices to improve health outcomes for populations.

In summary, David Bishai is a distinguished individual in the field of public health, recognized for his expertise in health economics, systems thinking, and health policy. His ability to bridge disciplines, convey complex ideas, and drive positive change through research, teaching, and policy engagement underscores his significant contributions to the advancement of public health knowledge and practice.



The Systems Thinking In Public Health course by author David Bishai typically encompasses the following requirements:

  1. Basic Understanding of Public Health Concepts: A foundational grasp of key public health principles, terminology, and challenges is beneficial for effectively engaging with the course content.

  2. Internet Access and Technical Proficiency: As the course is often delivered online, participants should have reliable internet access and basic technical skills to navigate the course platform and resources.

  3. Fluency in English: Since the course is likely to be conducted in English, a reasonable level of proficiency in English is necessary to comprehend the lectures, readings, and discussions.

  4. Interest in Public Health and Systems Thinking: Participants should possess an intrinsic curiosity about public health issues and an eagerness to explore the application of systems thinking to address these challenges.

  5. Openness to Multidisciplinary Approaches: The course may draw from various disciplines, so an open-mindedness to learn from different fields and perspectives is important.

  6. Willingness to Engage with Complex Concepts: Systems thinking involves dealing with intricate concepts, diagrams, and dynamic relationships. A willingness to delve into complex material and a proactive attitude toward learning are valuable.

  7. Time Commitment: Like any educational endeavor, the course requires a dedicated time commitment for watching lectures, engaging in discussions, completing assignments, and potentially collaborating with peers.

  8. Critical Thinking Skills: The course aims to develop participants' critical thinking abilities. Being able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information is essential for making the most of the course content.

  9. Collaborative Spirit: Systems thinking often involves collaborative problem-solving. Participants who can effectively engage in group discussions and activities are likely to benefit more from the course.

  10. Access to Necessary Tools: Depending on the course structure, participants might need access to software or tools for creating visual representations of systems (e.g., causal loop diagrams).

  11. Background in Public Health, Health Policy, or Related Fields (Potentially): While the course may be designed to accommodate a range of backgrounds, having prior knowledge in public health, health policy, economics, or related fields could enhance the learning experience.

  12. Desire to Apply Knowledge: The course likely encourages participants to apply the concepts learned to real-world scenarios. A willingness to translate theoretical understanding into practical solutions is valuable.


Register Now!