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Organisation profile

Organisation profile

Complexity & Health uni

The aim of the unit is to contribute to better knowledge on how health actors (need to) adapt their services and systems in response to the current health challenges, including the consequences of the climate crisis and urbanisation. We adopt a complex systems perspective and explore how the concepts of social-ecological systems theory can be used to make sense of the relationship between local governance, (the politics of) uncertainty and adaptation/transformation.

We currently focus on the 3 thematic research lines:

1.     Urban health systems

Considering cities as complex social systems, we explore how multi-level urban governance models can contribute to the organisation of responsive and inclusive social and health systems. We are interested in the conditions of success of co-production of urban (health) policies and how effective transformation can be facilitated.

Recent projects examined how actors in urban first line health zones in Flanders and in Kinshasa responded to the Covid pandemic. Joris Michielsen is examining how urban health authorities collect, interpret and use health data in decision-making in Antwerp and Lima, and how equity is taken into account.

2.     Climate change and health systems

We explore how health actors are developing mitigation and adaptation policies and interventions in response to the climate crisis. We focus on the relationship between climate change, uncertainty, health, and equity.

In his PhD study, Tom Cornu focuses on the relationship between green prescription for elderly people, use of urban green spaces and resilience. 

3.     Resilience

We focus on analytical frameworks of resilience that link societal and health systems resilience, and allow for a multiscale perspective that includes individual, community, organisational and system resilience. We are particularly interested in the transformative element of resilience and the conditions that are required to induce structural (social) change after shocks.  

Kirsten Accoe and colleagues examined the response of local health system actors to the Covid pandemic in Mauretania from a health system resilience perspective. Orawan Tawaytibhongs is looking at the effect of shocks on the resilience of local health systems in two districts in Thailand. Houssynatou Sy focuses on the way internally displaced people in Bamako (Mali) deal with health care in their new settlements. 


Methodologically, we explore and develop methods that address causal complexity.

1.     Realist evaluation and research

We advance the application of realist evaluation and research in health systems and policy research. We are interested in the dimension of time, interdependent and co-occurring processes and events, and the interaction between context and mechanisms. 

Virginia Castellano Pleguezuelo focuses her PhD research on the usefulness of realist evaluation for decision-makers. With Sara Van Belle, we explore how Margaret Archer’s Structure Agency Culture framework can be used in realist analysis.

2.     Co-production

Co-production of knowledge and policies is a central element of many of our current projects. We examine the conditions in which co-production of knowledge is possible, effective and contributing to better decisions

3.     Multi-scale/multi-level analysis

We seek to develop or finetune methods that allow describing causal pathways that involve events and outcomes at different levels in a system, and to explore how quantitative methods can be used in this process.


Flemish disicplinelist

  • Health management
  • Public health care not elsewhere classified


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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