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Health Res Policy Syst. 2020 Jan 31;18(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s12961-019-0514-2.

Using a 'rich picture' to facilitate systems thinking in research coproduction.

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The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Sydney, Australia.
Menzies Centre for Health Policy and University Centre for Rural Health, School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Sydney, Australia.
The Systems School, Melbourne, Australia.



In coproduction research, traditional 'end-users' are involved in the entire research process. The aim is to facilitate research translation by improving the timeliness and relevance of research. Because end-users often come from multiple sectors and hold diverse perspectives and priorities, involving them in coproduction can be challenging. Tools and approaches are needed to support coproduction teams to successfully navigate divergent viewpoints while producing rigorous but meaningful research outcomes. Rich pictures are a systems thinking tool to help make sense of complexity. In this paper, we describe how we developed and applied a 'rich picture' in a coproduction project with policy-level partners.


Guided by systems thinking principles, we conducted a systemic analysis of ethnographic fieldnotes collected as part of a broader study that examined the dynamics between an IT system and the implementation of the state-wide childhood obesity prevention programmes it was designed to monitor. Translating qualitative themes into metaphor and imagery, we created a visual depiction of the system to reflect the experience of the system's users (health promotion practitioners) and facilitated a workshop with policy-level programme administrators (i.e. participants, n = 7). Our aim was to increase the transparency of the system for our research partners and to spark new insights to improve the quality of programme implementation.


Guided by provocative questions, participants discussed and challenged each other's thinking on the current functioning of the system. They identified future lines of inquiry to explore for quality improvement. Participants strongly agreed that the picture was a constructive way to engage with the ethnographic data but were challenged by the information and its implications. The opportunity for participants to co-learn from each other as well as from the picture was an added value.


In the context of the facilitated workshop, the rich picture enabled research partners to engage with complex research findings and gain new insights. Its value was harnessed via the guided participatory process. This demonstrates the importance that, in the future, such tools should be accompanied by practices that enable participants to think with and apply systems thinking concepts and principles.


Systems thinking; coproduction; health information technology; health promotion; quality improvement; soft systems methodology; translation

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