Systems-Thinking Tools for Evidence-Informed Planning

Project Summary

“Systems thinking” is an approach to addressing complex problems in which all parts of the system in which the problem exists are considered, as well as the ways they interact and change over time.

  • For example, to understand how to reduce teenage smoking, a systems-thinking approach would consider the effects of such things as peer pressure, tobacco advertising, teenage attitudes toward smoking, pricing of cigarettes, and so on, as well as how these factors affect each other.


Usually, systems-thinking involves researchers and specialized consultants, especially since the language used in existing tools and resources is academic and technical. Our team aimed to overcome these barriers.

This project created a user-friendly set of systems-thinking tools that community groups can use to solve complex problems—independently, and with no prior knowledge about systems-thinking.

We worked in partnership with the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC and the City of Vancouver to develop and test this set of tools. The feedback and involvement of community members was invaluable and greatly improved our work and outputs.

The Systems-Thinking Toolbox

Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD)

Download this toolbox as a PDF, or open the accordions below.

Causal Loop Diagrams are used to understand an issue facing the community from a broad perspective.

They are useful for engagement and to develop shared understanding of the root causes of an issue, particularly a systemic issue.

  1. Connection Circles from the Case Study
  2. CLD from the Case Study
  3. Action items from the Case Study
  4. PowerPoint slides from Case Study modelling session
    This can be adapted for your own session.
  1. Agenda from modelling session
    This can be adapted for your own session.
  1. Scriptopedia
    This website contains detailed scripts that have been used for previous group model building projects.

    You can download the scripts and adapt them to your own projects.
  1. Adapted script for the Group Model Building (GMB) session
    This was adapted from the scripts available on Scriptopedia.
  1. Meadows: leverage points
    This website contains descriptions of different types of leverage points in a system that can be used as intervention points for program planning.
  1. Book: Hovmand, P.S. (2014) Community Based System Dynamics.
    This book contains a detailed process for doing system dynamics with community groups written by an expert in this field.

Social Network Analysis (SNA)

Download this toolbox as a PDF, or open the accordions below.

Social Network Analysis is used to understand the players involved as a systems level that are well situated to influence solutions to an issue in community.

This project is part of the Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science Cluster.

Project Lead

Dr. Allan Best, PI
Dr. Jennifer Terpstra
Dr. Robin H. Lemaire
Zahra Esmail
Mary Clare Zak
Dr. Josh Hayward
Dr. Shazhan Amed
Dr. Brenda Poon
Jen Bitz
Kim Blizzard ✉︎
Amanda Kwan