Background: System science approaches are increasingly used to explore complex public health problems. Quantitative methods, such as participatory dynamic simulation modelling, can mobilise knowledge to inform health policy decisions. However, the analytic and practical steps required to turn collaboratively developed, qualitative system maps into rigorous and policy relevant quantified dynamic simulation models are not well described. This paper reports on the processes, interactions and decisions that occurred at the interface between modellers and end-user participants in an applied health sector case study focusing on diabetes in pregnancy.

Methods: An analysis was conducted using qualitative data from a participatory dynamic simulation modelling case study in an Australian health policy setting. Recordings of participatory model development workshops and subsequent meetings were analysed and triangulated with field notes and other written records of discussions and decisions. Case study vignettes were collated to illustrate the deliberations and decisions made throughout the model development process.

Results: The key analytic objectives and decision-making processes included: defining the model scope; analysing and refining the model structure to maximise local relevance and utility; reviewing and incorporating evidence to inform model parameters and assumptions; focusing the model on priority policy questions; communicating results and applying the models to policy processes. These stages did not occur sequentially; the model development was cyclical and iterative with decisions being re-visited and refined throughout the process. Storytelling was an effective strategy to both communicate and resolve concerns about the model logic and structure, and to communicate the outputs of the model to a broader audience.

Conclusion: The in-depth analysis reported here examined the application of participatory modelling methods to move beyond qualitative conceptual mapping to the development of a rigorously quantified and policy relevant, complex dynamic simulation model. The analytic objectives and decision-making themes identified provide guidance for interpreting, understanding and reporting future participatory modelling projects and methods.


diabetes mellitus, pregnancy, simulation and modelling, health care policy, decision making, charts

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