Complex adaptive systems: A different way of thinking about health care systems

This paper, authored by Beverly Sibthorpe, Nicholas Glasgow and Duncan Longstaff for the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, provides a brief synopsis of literature relevant to CAS and healthcare systems.


"Complexity science has long been used to describe and explain behaviour in natural and biological systems, characterised by nonlinear dynamics and emergent properties based on diverse populations of individuals interacting with each other and capable of undergoing spontaneous self-organisation (McDaniel and Driebe 2001). Recent research in organisational management, behavior and psychology indicate that human systems also behave in a complex fashion (Dooley 1996).Complexity science is now being used to improve our understanding of health care organisations and systems (Plsek 2003). The operational model of complexity science – what Dooley (nd) calls complexity in action – is Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). CAS theory provides a different way of thinking about health care organisations and systems, including how policy should be developed for them (Eoyang, Yellow thunder and Ward 1998), how they should be managed (Plsek and Wilson2001), how innovation can be spread within them (Plsek) and how they should be evaluated (Eoyang and Berkas 1998)." (Sibthorpe, Glasgow & Longstaff 2004)


Sibthorpe, B., & Glasgow, N., and Longstaff, D. (2004) Complex adaptive systems: A different way of thinking about Health care systems. The Australian National University.

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