GHPC researchers publish results of innovative legislative education initiative

Posted On May 30, 2014
Categories News, Press Releases

Building skills and knowledge to tackle health policy challenges

In response to limited examples of opportunities for state policymakers to learn about and discuss the difficult, adaptive challenges of the United States health system, the Georgia Health Policy Center (GHPC) in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University developed an initiative that utilizes systems thinking skills to educate Georgia legislators.

GHPC researchers and partners describe the initiative and the impact on Georgia’s policymakers in this open access article that was recently published in the journal Health Systems.

In 2008, the GHPC created the Legislative Health Policy Certificate Program. The program is an in-depth, multi-session series for lawmakers and their staff, concentrating on building systems thinking competencies and health content knowledge.

Systems thinking is a way of understanding connections between the components of a system (e.g. environmental, social, or political) and how those components relate to one another.

Systems thinkers use tools to facilitate learning. The curriculum included a Six-Question Framework which provided a construct for evaluating specific health content in the policy arena, behavior over time graphs, stock and flow maps, and simulation models.

Working with a collaborative team of legislators, staff, and subject matter experts, GHPC staff developed the childhood obesity model which allowed participants to better understand the future impact of specific policy initiatives on decreasing Georgia’s childhood obesity problem.

Building the program around a systems thinking framework is a unique, and successful approach to legislator education. This approach enables legislators to look at the big picture, consider multiple factors and their changing dynamics, and explore higher leverage interventions to address Georgia’s health challenges.

Legislators have consistently given it high marks in their evaluations and have indicated that it has increased their capacity to engage in more productive, in-depth discussions.

“We learned that participants wanted more health content but also more opportunities to meet in small groups and discuss challenging issues in a bi-partisan, bi-chamber environment.    The certificate program provided them this opportunity,” said Mary Ann Phillips, associate project director at the GHPC.

The program has also produced valuable insights into the design and delivery of policymaker education that could be applied to various disciplines outside the legislative process.

To date, 130 legislators and staff had participated in the program; 93 of them are certificate holders. Nineteen legislators and staff have participated in the Advanced Health Policy Institute which was developed in 2012 to build upon the skills and knowledge of those legislators who had previously attended the program; 17 completed the entire training.

The publication further details the Legislative Health Policy Certificate Program, the Advanced Health Policy Institute, and the results of applying systems thinking to health policymaking.

The article “Using Systems Thinking in State Health Policymaking: An Educational Initiative” is available online at:

The Georgia Health Policy Center in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University provides evidence-based research, program development, and policy guidance for complex issues facing health and health care today. We work locally, statewide, and nationally to improve health at the community level. Visit to learn more.

Health Systems is an interdisciplinary journal promoting the idea that all aspects of health and healthcare delivery can be viewed from a systems perspective. The principal aim of the journal is to bring together critical disciplines that have proved themselves already in health, and to leverage these contributions by providing a forum that brings together diverse viewpoints and research approaches (qualitative, quantitative, and conceptual).