Building Systems Science Thinking into One Health: Workshop Report

We are excited to share with you a recent workshop report titled “Building Systems Science Thinking into One Health: Brainstorming Workshop One” held on 29 June 2023. This workshop was co-convened by a core group of researchers from the University of Surrey and the Royal Veterinary College, with the aim of exploring systems thinking in the context of One Health.

Our world faces existential and interlinked health, climate, ecological, social, and economic crises. The One Health approach has been successful in addressing challenges at the human-animal interface, but is it sufficient for considering larger, more complex socio-ecological systems? Complexity Science and Systems Thinking approaches are applied within biological and environmental sciences, so this workshop was held to explore how these approaches might be incorporated into the One Health paradigm.

The workshop aimed to identify and explore main challenges and gaps in the application of system thinking methodologies in One Health, co-create a common understanding of goals and way forward, identify other activities to strengthen and expand systems thinking in One Health, co-develop concepts for development into research proposals, and discuss next steps for seeking funding and other support.

The workshop participants agreed that equity considerations are fundamental to the One Health discourse and that equity should be viewed as an underpinning value in One Health activities. They also recognized the need for diverse approaches, models, and methods to explore complex systems in One Health contexts. However, these methodologies evolved in unrelated disciplines and often lack interoperability.

The workshop also highlighted the importance of teaching and networking in One Health and systems thinking. The participants agreed that there is a need to understand what form of systems thinking teaching already occurs in different One Health courses, as well as in other established fields of study. This information would allow expansion of existing systems thinking teaching and training efforts.

The workshop concluded with the recognition of the need for theoretical development of systems thinking in One Health contexts and empirical work – testing and implementing the principles. The workshop contributed to the growing Community of Practice for One Health Systems Approaches, with efforts to expand this community underway.

We are grateful for the financial and logistical support provided by the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Surrey Institute for Sustainability. We deeply thank all the participants for contributing their enormous expertise as well as their time and travel to the workshop.

We look forward to sharing more updates on this important initiative and invite all members of the Animal Health Innovation Network to join us in this journey towards integrating systems thinking into One Health.

The report is available here.

Strategy and Delivery Manager at the Surrey University Vet School