Article Text

Systems thinking and complexity science methods and the policy process in non-communicable disease prevention: a systematic scoping review protocol
  1. Chloe Clifford Astbury1,
  2. Elizabeth McGill2,
  3. Matt Egan3,
  4. Tarra L Penney1
  1. 1 Global Food System and Policy Research, School of Global Health, Faculty of Health, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Deaprtment of Health Services Research and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3 Department of Public Health, Environments and Society, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tarra L Penney; tpenney{at}


Introduction Given the complex causal origins of many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the complex landscapes in which policies designed to tackle them are made and unfold, the need for systems thinking and complexity science (STCS) in developing effective policy solutions has been emphasised. While numerous methods informed by STCS have been applied to the policy process in NCD prevention, these applications have not been systematically catalogued. The aim of this scoping review is to identify existing applications of methods informed by STCS to the policy process for NCD prevention, documenting which domains of the policy process they have been applied to.

Methods and analysis A systematic scoping review methodology will be used. Identification: We will search Medline, SCOPUS, Embase and Web of Science using search terms combining STCS, NCD prevention and the policy process. All records published in English will be eligible for inclusion, regardless of study design. Selection: We will screen titles and abstracts and extract data according to published guidelines for scoping reviews. In order to determine the quality of the included studies, we will use the approach developed by Dixon-Woods et al, excluding studies identified as fatally flawed, and determining the credibility and contribution of included studies. Synthesis: We will identify relevant studies, summarising key data from each study and mapping applications of methods informed by STCS to different parts of the policy process. Review findings will provide a useful reference for policy-makers, outlining which domains of the policy process different methods have been applied to.

Ethics and dissemination Formal ethical approval is not required, as the study does not involve primary data collection. The findings of this study will be disseminated through a peer-reviewed publication, presentations and summaries for key stakeholders.

  • public health
  • statistics & research methods
  • health policy

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Twitter @chloecastbury, @McGill_Eliz, @TarraPenney

  • Contributors CCA and TLP conceived and designed the study. CCA drafted the manuscript. TLP, EM and ME provided critical input on the manuscript and methods, and read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding CCA and TLP acknowledge internal research support from York University, Toronto, Canada and the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. EM and ME were supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research (SPHR), Grant Reference Number PD-SPH-2015.

  • Disclaimer The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.