Even though the public and private sectors have spent billions of dollars encouraging Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles, it’s still difficult to predict which policies and programs will have the greatest impact and allow resources to be invested efficiently.
To unravel this mystery, the Nova Institute supports innovative work that uses tools and techniques from complex systems science. This approach takes a holistic view of communities rather than focusing on individual parts and helps researchers understand the links between health determinants—the biological, behavioral, socioeconomic, and environmental factors that shape our health.
Complex systems modeling illuminates how health determinants work together and helps researchers identify key relationships between factors. That information can be used to predict the impact of different policies, such as increasing student-teacher ratios or adding new bus routes. It also helps researchers pinpoint gaps in information as well as key tipping points. Building bridges between techies, academics, policy makers, and the general public, complex systems modeling transforms information into powerful insight that can drive more efficient, effective changes in community health and public policy.
Nova Institute Scholar George Kaplan is using complex systems modeling to take large sets of data and simulate scenarios in hypothetical communities. For example, as part of a larger study, he examined what would happen to the body mass index (a health indicator) of residents if good food stores were introduced in their neighborhoods. Other Scholars working in this space include David Lary, who is using machine learning to integrate and evaluate complex data, as well as Claudia Witt, who is studying how clinical research can generate better evidence.
In October 2007, we hosted a conference on complex systems and complementary and alternative medicine research, and Fellow Andrew Ahn published a white paper summarizing the results in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.
Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”
“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad.
When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.)
“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”
Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.”
Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”
In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.”
Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding.
There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.
Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors.
“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”
Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.
Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.
Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.