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Participatory systems mapping for population health research, policy and practice: guidance on method choice and design

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Benjamin RigbyORCiD


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Executive Summary: What is participatory systems mapping? Participatory systems mapping engages stakeholders with varied knowledge and perspectives in creating a visual representation of a complex system. Its purpose is to explore, and document perceived causal relations between elements in the system. This guidance focuses on six causal systems mapping methods: systems-based theory of change maps; causal loop diagrams; CECAN participatory systems mapping; fuzzy cognitive maps; systems dynamics models; and Bayesian belief networks. What is the purpose of this guidance? This guidance includes a Framework that aids the choice and design of participatory systems mapping approaches for population health research, policy and practice. It offers insights on different systems mapping approaches, by comparing them and highlighting their applications in the population health domain. This guidance also includes case studies, signposting to further reading and resources, and recommendations on enhancing stakeholder involvement in systems mapping. Who is this guidance for? This guidance is designed for anyone interested in using participatory systems mapping, regardless of prior knowledge or experience. It primarily responds to calls to support the growing demand for systems mapping (and systems-informed approaches more broadly) in population health research, policy and practice. This guidance can however also be applied to other disciplines. How was it developed? The guidance was created by an interdisciplinary research team through an iterative, rigorous fivestage process that included a scoping review, key informant interviews, and a consultation exercise with subject experts. What is the ‘Participatory Systems Design Framework’ included in this guidance? The Design Framework supports users to choose between different methods and enhance the design of participatory systems mapping projects. Specifically, it encourages users to consider: 1) the added value of adopting a participatory approach to systems mapping; 2) the differences between methods, including their relative advantages and disadvantages; and 3) the feasibility of using particular methods for a given purpose. An editable version of the Framework is available to download as a supplementary file. How will this guidance support future use of these methods? Participatory systems mapping is an exciting and evolving field. This guidance clarifies and defines the use of these methods in population health research, policy and practice, to encourage more thoughtful and purposeful project design, implementation, and reporting. The guidance also identifies several aspects for future research and development: methodological advancements; advocating for and strengthening participatory approaches; strengthening reporting; understanding and demonstrating the use of maps; and developing skills for the design and use of these methods.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Blake C, Rigby BP, Armstrong-Moore R, Barbrook-Johnson P, Gilbert N, Hassannezhad M, Meier P, Mitchell KR, Penn A, Readman B, Simpson SA, White M, Moore L

Publication type: Report

Publication status: Published

Series Title:

Type: Methods guidance

Year: 2024

Pages: 68

Online publication date: 29/01/2024

Acceptance date: 26/01/2024

Institution: University of Glasgow

Place Published: Glasgow, UK


DOI: 10.36399/gla.pubs.316563