South Aucklanders lead systems change

Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura has recruited a team of more than 20 remarkable individuals, mostly from local communities, to take up the challenge of implementing a systems approach in their own communities.

The Government has made a significant investment into creating a workforce in South Auckland that is focused on tackling the complex systems that impact on health and wellbeing.

Systems thinking provides ways to consider how to collectively address complex societal challenges like obesity, where biology interacts with social, cultural and built environmental factors.

The team were guided through a comprehensive six-week induction programme to learn new ways of thinking and doing. New mindsets and new skills were practiced to complement the richness already existing in the team.

Sam Lafolua joined the team from Pacific Heartbeat and has worked in public health with communities for many years. “I’ve come to understand just how complex the systems are that influence our people. Now I’m focusing on the contributing factors that impact health, not on individual choice”, he says.

Andrew Ah Kew is the Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura Kaiwhakahaere, leading on responsiveness to Maori. “The workforce reflects the diversity across South Auckland. It’s powerful that we can bring our Maori and Pacific values and beliefs to the emerging practice of systems thinking. This way of thinking and doing has connections with our holistic frameworks such as Te Whare Tapa Wha and Te Pae Mahutonga”.

Growing a mindset that is open and curious and doesn’t jump straight to solutions takes time and effort.

“We have to constantly pull back and ask ourselves – is this systems change?” says Ben Youdan, Co-Manager, Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura. “Does this rely on conscious choices by individuals or is it about changes to the environment and societal norms? Will this reset some default in the wider system to make healthy behaviours easier? If so, we’re on the right track”.

What is systems change?

  • Understanding the complex systems that affect health where people live, learn, work and play
  • Focus is on building strong partnerships across these places that can collectively improve the health of communities
  • Does not reinvent the wheel
  • Amplifies what works
  • Identifies strategic leverage points for greatest impact