2010 Systems Thinking About Wicked Problems

Systems Thinking about Wicked Problems

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Session Description: 

Understanding how things influence one another within a whole is key to systems thinking.  Systems thinking include ecosystems in which various elements such as sir, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish.  In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.  Systems thinking have been defined as an apporach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events which may contribute to further development of uninteneded consequences.  Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices within a framework that is based on the beliefd that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation.

Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication at all levels.  Systems thinking techniques may be used to study any kind of system - natural, scientific, engineered, human, or conceptional.

In this session participants explored how systems thinking approaches and tools can be used to address complex public health issues and explore strategies to promote the adoption of systems thinking in public health over the long term.  By the end of the session, participants were able to:

     • Define systems thinking
     • Describe how systems thinking benefits complex problems of public health
     • Recognize the value of systems thinking in your specific work setting
     • Recognize the value of organizational learning

You can access the session materials by clicking here.


Tanja Popovic, MD, PhD, F(AAM), AM(AAFS)

Deputy Associate Director of Science

Office of the Director for Science, CDC


Tanja Popovic is CDC's Deputy Associate for Science.  Previously she served as the CDC's Associate Director for Science and Chief Science Officer.  She joined CDC in 1989 as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow and has served as the Chief of the Diphtheria Reference Unit, Chief of the Epidemiologic Investigations/Anthrax Laboratory, and Co-director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Prevention and Control of Bacterial Meningitis. She was a WHO consultant for bacterial meningitis and diphtheria in Russia and throughout Africa. For 6 years, Dr. Popovic was CDC’s lead subject matter expert on laboratory aspects of anthrax and led CDC laboratory efforts to perform thousands of confirmatory and molecular subtyping tests during the 2001 anthrax investigation.  Dr. Popovic is CDC Institutional Official for Protection of Human Research Subjects and the CDC Institutional Official for Animal Research. In 2005 and 2008, she completed two executive leadership courses at Harvard’s JFK School of Government, and she is the 2005 graduate of the Public Health Leadership Institute at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2009 she served on the White House ad hoc Scientific Integrity Task Force. Dr. Popovic has authored over 150 scientific publications and book chapters on molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases. She is an Associate Editor, Emerging Infectious Disease, Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

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