Applying Systems Thinking for Nutrition
—Robert Zoellick, former head of the World Bank
People don't live their lives in health sectors or education sectors or infrastructure sectors, arranged in tidy compartments.
People live in families and villages and communities and countries, where all the issues of everyday life merge. We need to connect the dots.
SPRING takes a systems approach to tackling nutrition. This means looking at the forest and the trees — seeing interrelationships, processes of change, and feedback mechanisms.
Practitioners working in nutrition must start thinking about the effect food, health, and education systems have on nutrition practices and outcomes.
SPRING identified factors that influence and interact with one another as they impact nutrition outcomes.
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Policies and Governance
Infrastructures and Markets
Roads and “brick and mortar” structures are necessary for nutrition - to provide health and nutrition services and to store, distribute, and sell agriculture, food, sanitation, and hygiene products.
Inputs and Services
Information and Communication
Political will for nutrition must be reflected through financial support. Only by taking a broad systems approach can financing be effectively allocated and used to improve nutrition.
Systems thinking links efforts to improve household resources and maximize the use of resources for education, food, health, WASH, and other nutrition needs.
Social roles, relationships, and policies in public settings influence perceptions of and access to resources and services, as well as nutrition-related behaviors and decisions.
We believe that together these factors form multiple interdependent systems that shape nutrition.
Systems thinking informs SPRING’s work in three areas
1. Generating evidence around how complex dynamics impact nutrition
2. Creating and testing tools for improving nutrition through systems thinking
3. Assessing the nutrition landscape through a systems lens
Generating evidence around how complex dynamics impact nutrition
SPRING has pioneered efforts to gather and build evidence on the role of systems in achieving scale for nutrition programs. SPRING’s Pathways to Better Nutrition Case Studies took an innovative approach to documenting the influence of multi-sectoral national nutrition action plans at the national level and in a few districts. Because our country-driven research took place over multiple years, we were able to provide a rare time-series view of changes in planning processes and funding mechanisms for nutrition.
SPRING’s Pathways to Better Nutrition Recommendations
- Take a long view of scale-up
- Reach the local level
Drivers of Change
- Work within sustainable structures
- Address human resource constraints
- Launch monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework
- Align with priorities named in nutrition plan
- Embed nutrition in sector and organizational plans
- Use budget as planning tools
- Invest in key drivers of change
- Consider formal funding mechanisms for nutrition
Creating and testing tools for improving nutrition through systems thinking
These tools are created to help policymakers and other stakeholders identify gaps, and integrate nutrition into food, health, and other systems.
Assessing the nutrition landscape through a systems lens
Through webinars, research, and partnerships SPRING has been able to share lessons learned, and help others incorporate nutrition across multiple sectors.