Seminar on Complex systems thinking in international aid and health development
30/09 - 30/11/2016

30 September 2016, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp



Since a few years, complexity is rising on the agenda. The interest for new or better methods to deal with programmes that intervene in complex situations is growing in circles of health, international aid and development, as well as in the field of health policy and systems research. However, the uptake of complex systems thinking in actual practice has been slow. Sound applications of complex systems thinking to development and health remain scarce, both in the fields of planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of international aid programmes and in the field of research.

This slow uptake is arguably due to two reasons. First, there is still some conceptual confusion regarding the definition of ‘complexity’ and its key elements – for instance, what makes a problem or an intervention complex? Similar problems affect discussions on what constitutes good designs for evaluation or research of interventions in complex systems. Second, complexity theories present a major challenge to the linear paradigms (and the related preference for a sense of control and prediction) that are still dominant in medicine, public health and development.

With this series of seminars on complexity, we aim at contributing to the debate on how to better take on board complex systems thinking and to help shift the paradigm in the field of research and evaluation in health and development. The series is organised by the Department of Public Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), with support of the Health Department of the Belgian Development Agency (BTC), the Institut de recherche santé et société (Université Catholique de Louvain), and Be-cause health.


The starting point of this first seminar is the publication of the book Development cooperation as learning in progress, edited by Paul Bossyns and Paul Verlé of the Belgian Development Agency BTC. The objective is to bring together policymakers and experts in the field of complex systems in development, evaluation and research, with a particular attention for the health sector. We would like to identify the challenges of complexity and the existing strategies for complex systems thinking by creating opportunities for presentation, exchange and discussion.


Report of the seminar

BCH             UCL verti eps382                ITG