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Introduction to Complex Systems Approaches in Public Health
Provider: Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Activity no.: 3492-24-00-00There are no available seats 
Enrollment deadline: 01/12/2023
Date and time26.02.2024, at: 09:15 - 01.03.2024, at: 16:00
Regular seats22
Course fee5,400.00 kr.
LecturersNaja Hulvej Rod
ECTS credits3.00
Contact personKathe Jensen    E-mail address: kje@sund.ku.dk
Enrolment Handling/Course OrganiserPhD administration     E-mail address: phdkursus@sund.ku.dk

Aim and content
This course is free of charge for PhD students at Danish universities (except Copenhagen Business School), and for PhD Students from NorDoc member universities. All other participants must pay the course fee.

Anyone can apply for the course, but if you are not a PhD student at a Danish university, you will be placed on the waiting list until enrollment deadline. This also applies to PhD students from NorDoc member universities. After the enrollment deadline, available seats will be allocated to applicants on the waiting list.

Learning objectives
A student who has met the objectives of the course will be able to:
1. Understand the strengths and limitations of complex systems thinking in addressing public health problems.
2. Identify public health problems that exhibit characteristics of complexity and justify the use of a systems thinking approach.
3. Describe and apply the interdisciplinary Health Complexity Framework for generating knowledge on complex public health issues.
4. Understand when systems methods such as causal loop diagrams and systems dynamics models may be useful and what these methods entail.
5. Develop a research proposal that applies systems thinking to address a specific public health issue.

Many public health problems show features of complex systems, characterized by feedback mechanisms and complex interactions among various factors and individuals across different spatial scales. Prominent examples of such complex public health problems include health inequality, obesity, multi-morbidity, and infectious disease epidemics. In order to comprehend and address such complexities, systems thinking is emerging as a new paradigm in public health research.
In this course, PhD students will develop a strong foundational understanding of complexity within public health. They will delve deep into the details of these complex problems and critically examine the limitations of reductionist approaches. The course places great emphasis on the practical application of the Health Complexity Framework, which serves as a fundamental tool for conducting complexity research in the field of public health.

By embracing a systems thinking approach and examining patterns along with their underlying mechanisms and dynamics, students will acquire the skills to analyze complex public health problems. They will use a systematic framework that facilitates the generation of interdisciplinary knowledge regarding these complexities. The course provides students with an introduction to various methodologies for exploring patterns within public health data, including the utilization of explainable artificial intelligence techniques. Moreover, students will be familiarized with systems methods, such as causal loop diagrams, designed to capture the dynamic mechanisms that drive public health issues. They will also gain exposure to simulation modeling using system dynamics, enabling them to explore the complexity of these problems and simulate potential interventions. Ultimately, students will leverage their newly acquired knowledge to develop a research proposal that tackles a specific complex public health problem of their choosing.

This course is aimed at a maximum of 20 PhD students in public health and epidemiology without requiring further qualifications.

Relevance to graduate programmes
The course is relevant to PhD students from the following graduate programmes at the Graduate School of Health and Medical Sciences, UCPH:
- Public Health and Epidemiology
- Biostatistics and Bioinformatics
- All graduate programmes


This course comprises nine 3-hour sessions, consisting of group lectures, workshops, and an individual research project centered around the development of a research proposal. Finally, the students will present their research proposals to their peers.

Course director
Naja Hulvej Rod, Professor, Section of Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, nahuro@sund.ku.dk

Harry Rutter, Professor, Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath
Morten Hulvej Rod, Professor, National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark
Naja Hulvej Rod, Professor, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen
Jeroen Uleman, Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen
Adrian Zucco, Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen

26-29 February 2024 and 1 March 2024

Course program 2024
26 February: Introduction
Morning (9 am to 12 noon): Introduction to complex systems thinking and the Health Complexity Framework
Afternoon (1 to 4 pm): The students will define specific complex health problem to focus on in their research proposal

27 February: Patterns
Morning (9 am to 12 noon): Introduction to studying patterns using a mix of epidemiological and data science methods
Afternoon (1 to 4 pm): Workshop on how to identify patterns related to the student’s own project

28 February: Mechanisms
Morning (9 am to 12 noon): Introduction to mechanic research, from causal inference-based mediation methods to causal loop diagrams
Afternoon (1 to 4 pm): Identifying variables and causal links between the variables and drawing a causal loop diagram

29 February: Dynamics
Morning (9 am to 12 noon): Next step: introduction to system dynamics modeling and systems interventions.
Afternoon (1 to 4 pm): Workshop focusing on research proposal integrating the entire Health Complexity Framework, including Dynamics

1 March: Research proposal presentations
Morning (9 am to 12 pm): Poster presentations of research proposal and evaluation

Course location
University of Copenhagen (TBD)

Please register before 01-12-2023.

Expected frequency

Seats to PhD students from other Danish universities will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and according to the applicable rules.
Applications from other participants will be considered after the last day of enrolment.

Note: All applicants are asked to submit invoice details in case of no-show, late cancellation or obligation to pay the course fee (typically non-PhD students). If you are a PhD student, your participation in the course must be in agreement with your principal supervisor.

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