, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 414–424 | Cite as

A Reflective Lens: Applying Critical Systems Thinking and Visual Methods to Ecohealth Research

  • Deborah Cleland
  • Carina WybornEmail author
Original Contribution


Critical systems methodology has been advocated as an effective and ethical way to engage with the uncertainty and conflicting values common to ecohealth problems. We use two contrasting case studies, coral reef management in the Philippines and national park management in Australia, to illustrate the value of critical systems approaches in exploring how people respond to environmental threats to their physical and spiritual well-being. In both cases, we used visual methods—participatory modeling and rich picturing, respectively. The critical systems methodology, with its emphasis on reflection, guided an appraisal of the research process. A discussion of these two case studies suggests that visual methods can be usefully applied within a critical systems framework to offer new insights into ecohealth issues across a diverse range of socio-political contexts. With this article, we hope to open up a conversation with other practitioners to expand the use of visual methods in integrated research.


critical systems approach critical systems heuristics human well-being protected-area management systemic intervention visual methods 



This paper is based on a talk given at the 2007 Asia Pacific Eco-Health conference, and a chapter included in the book Tackling wicked problems: through the transdisciplinary imagination (2010) edited by Brown VA, Harris J, Smith M, which provides greater detail on the use of visual methods in transdisciplinary inquiry. We would like to thank all our research participants as well as David Dumaresq, Pascal Perez and Valerie Brown for their assistance and supervision through the conduct of this research and beyond. The Philippines case study was conducted as part of the Coral Reef Targeted Research (CRTR) program (, with additional support provided by the academics and students of the Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, particularly Dr Porifirio Aliño’s Community Ecology Laboratory.


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Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU College of Medicine Biology and EnvironmentAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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