Implementation of systems thinking in public policy : a systematic review

Nguyen, Le-Khanh-Ngan and Kumar, Cecilia and Jiang, Bowen and Zimmermann, Nici (2023) Implementation of systems thinking in public policy : a systematic review. Systems, 11 (2). 64. ISSN 2079-8954 (

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The value of systems thinking in public policy is increasingly recognised. However, the extent of its use in decision- and policy-making within the government and civil service remains unclear. This review aims to investigate the state of systems thinking application in public policy. We conducted a systematic search to identify papers published up to June 2022 from various scientific databases. We also searched the grey literature. Publications eligible for inclusion were those that used or discussed systems thinking concepts and tools relating to policy-making. We included 73 papers falling into five categories: case studies, commentary pieces, user perspectives, reviews, and methodological frameworks. Our analysis highlighted the benefits and values of systems thinking that were observed and reflected by researchers and perceived by users in policy-making. It also revealed several challenges of systems thinking implementation in public policy and mapped out recommendations to address each of these challenges. Decision-makers in public policy are yet to utilise the full benefit of systems thinking. Advancing its implementation and sustaining its use in practice requires (i) exploring how to shift decision-makers' mental models and modify the organisational cultures under which decisions are made and (ii) developing methodological and practical guidance for application and evaluation specific to policy-making.