2008/07/18 09:25 Jennifer Wilby, "Complexity and Public Health Policy", ISSS Madison 2008

ISSS Madison 2008, 52nd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted on the ISSS web site by David Ing.

Intro by Tim Allen

Had sent Tim's paper quite early, asked if she had read it

Now a presentation on systems content

Content partially from Ph.D. dissertation

Was looking at emerging infectious diseases

  • Interest in international health, and its management
  • Had started masters looking at waste management

As a Ph.D. student started out thinking about tilting at windmills

  • Started to critique the major international health organizations
  • Used hierarchy theory from Tim Allen's work in San Jose State, complexity and systems content
  • Found functionalist frameworks and more interpretive frameworks of hierarchy theory

CDC:  Infectious and parasitic diseases are as much as cardiovascular and cancer together

  • This isn't a third world issue, it's happening in USA, Japan, and now coming into Europe with West Nile
  • Also SARS, the travel of a few people, the speed of transmission makes it a world problem

People working in complexity theory now don't know about von Bertalanffy

  • Looked at complexity of disciplines, 300 to 400 years ago, even before Boulding
  • Divided into the functionalist frameworks, e.g. Boulding, compared with interpretitive, observer-driven approach (e.g. Allen) where you start with the boundary, and look in
  • Hierarchy theory started from the idea of the great chain of being, from the rocks to the angels ... until the 16th and 17th century
  • Then the revolution of the individual coming up, having as much knowledge and value as church
  • 18th Century in Comte's first work, followed by Durkheim and Freud on ideas of inter-relationships

Comte 1937:  Hierarchy of disciplines

Von Bertalanffy 1968, hierarchic order to the world, static frame

  • An addition to Boulding's skeleton

Lancelot Whyte 1969 noted Newtwon, Lamber, Fourner and Clrlier also used a static hierarchical concept

Boulding 1956:  Looking for a general theory of systems

Used hierarchy to look at infectious diseases, wanted to know whther interpretist or hierarchical gave better views

Boulding, Skeleton of Science

Definition of risk factors, at levels:  host, agent, transmission, environmental

  • Then what disciplines are need for each
  • Map to Boulding's skeleton

Found that policies only address Boulding's levels 1 to 4, they're reactive, and don't address social, political and cultural issues

Surveilllance recommendations:

  • Single network for all agencies on the same levels of analysis
  • New methods, new ways of storing

Health promotion and education recommendations

  • Individual and social concerns
  • Refocus education to teach public health

Proposed model: research topic --> policy

Applied research recommendations:

  • Expand range of disciplines
  • Approach need to incorporate all disciplines

Learned:  a complex system is defined when more than one level of analysis is reuqired for its adequate description

Kolasa at McMasters:  Have to work with the perspective of the whole


Epidemiology studies, when people look at risk factors (e.g. Ebola) often poor underpaid miners eating bush meat.  No one asks why miners are there, usually Anglo-American.  Risk factor at those scales are often ignored.  Having identifed those, it covers areas of responsibility.  Argument in Canada, that it might come to on a plane.  Not seen as demands that we put on a system (as consumers).  Not sure how to put this into the system, it's not analytical.

  • Yes, came across that issue.
  • Changes, e.g. trucking highway that helped distribution of HIV
  • How to work at a high enough level
  • Have to work top-down, and bottom-up

Incorporating and drawing on multiple disciplines.  Interdisciplinary approach.  Now some think transdisciplinary.  But then who is our audience?

  • As working with funding issues, they say that they want multidisciplinary / interdisciplinary / transdisclinary, but then reviews by disciplinary people makes funding difficult

Use of the word hierarchy.  In bottom 4 levels, hierarchy doesn't have any ideological considerations.  At the higher social levels, does have ideological implications.  Suggest using different words.

  • Yes, lot of words have the issue:  hierarchy, holon