Theorising interventions as events in systems

Am J Community Psychol. 2009 Jun;43(3-4):267-76. doi: 10.1007/s10464-009-9229-9.


Conventional thinking about preventive interventions focuses over simplistically on the "package" of activities and/or their educational messages. An alternative is to focus on the dynamic properties of the context into which the intervention is introduced. Schools, communities and worksites can be thought of as complex ecological systems. They can be theorised on three dimensions: (1) their constituent activity settings (e.g., clubs, festivals, assemblies, classrooms); (2) the social networks that connect the people and the settings; and (3) time. An intervention may then be seen as a critical event in the history of a system, leading to the evolution of new structures of interaction and new shared meanings. Interventions impact on evolving networks of person-time-place interaction, changing relationships, displacing existing activities and redistributing and transforming resources. This alternative view has significant implications for how interventions should be evaluated and how they could be made more effective. We explore this idea, drawing on social network analysis and complex systems theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Social Support